From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.32 :: NO.19 :: May. 09, 2009
By S. DINAKAR.
Much of Adam Gilchirst’s cricket is about velocity and aggression. He is still high on octane and low on sympathy for the bowlers.
He puts his foot on the accelerator and the game changes course. The field is a blaze of colour and the crowd, cutting across barriers, erupts.
Behind the stumps, the Aussie flings himself defying gravity, faces a greater threat of injuries, endures much pain, and shells out a lot more for laundry.
Despite the passing years — Gilchrist is 37 — his approach oozes freshness and freedom. A big hit in any format, he certainly is.
This natural has been speeding on the Twenty20 highway for Deccan Chargers in the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL). The ease with which he has settled into a rhythm — the Aussie has retired from international and first class cricket — in South Africa has been astonishing.
Not surprisingly, this explosive cricketer redefined the role of the keeper-batsman. The legend lives on in the IPL.
Men of his ilk — wicketkeeper-batsmen — are precious. They provide the side with depth and options. These men of action invariably are in the thick of things.
Given the physical and mental demands of keeping — it is a specialist job — their batting is a bonus. Their contribution with the willow has to be viewed against this background.
Indeed, a keeper with exceptional batting skills is a Super All-rounder who saves a place in the XI. Gilchrist is the foremost example. While he creates havoc with his bat-speed and the ability to pick the length early, Gilchrist continues to be reliable behind the stumps.
The genuine wicket-keeper batsmen strike a balance between glove-work and batting — one department does not flourish at the cost of another.
Actually, these men deserve two pay packets!
Gilchrist might want three — he has led the Chargers with panache in the IPL!
Predictably, much focus has been on this tribe in the popular Twenty20 competition. Gilchrist has made a difference, so has the admirable Kumar Sangakkara. Mark Boucher has pulled his weight and Dinesh Karthik has conjured a couple of gems with the willow.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni seeks batting form and fluency but has, typically, slugged it out in the middle. He has the ability to come back hard for Chennai Super Kings.
The free-flowing Brendon McCullum is in the midst of a severe run-drought. Consequently, Kolkata Knight Riders has struggled for momentum. His confidence dented, and, under the additional burden of leading the side, McCullum is playing as a pure batsman; he averages just 7.14 from seven IPL II games. Fortunes can swing quickly in cricket.
Unless, of course, you are as gifted as Gilchrist is. The southpaw has sizzled with 210 runs from six matches at a strike rate of 155.55; he has formed an exhilarating left-right opening combination with the mercurial Herschelle Gibbs.
From a psychological perspective, Gilchrist forces the bowlers into a defensive and negative mind-set, disrupts their rhythm. He, then, inflicts greater damage with his pulls, straight hits and those back-footed punches through the off-side.
Gilchrist has been largely steady and safe behind the stumps if not spectacular. Crucially, he has led with imagination as the Chargers appear to have brushed aside the memories of a disastrous 2008. The West Australian is still fit and hungry. The form of the game might change but a ‘keeper’s value doesn’t.
Is batting a more important attribute than keeping in the Twenty20 format? Not really. A catch put down, a stumping squandered or a throw grassed could separate the winner from the loser. As the overs are limited, there may be no comebacks.
When Royal Challengers Bangalore chose Robin Uthappa as a make-shift batsman-keeper, the side was without inspiration. The return of the influential Mark Boucher behind the stumps has increased the confidence levels of the bowlers, lifted the side’s morale.
A quick-thinking man, Boucher is at the heart of on-field discussions on strategy and, tactical switches. The quality of his keeping is high and he still makes runs when it matters; his spunky 13-ball unbeaten 25 in a tense match against Knight Riders in Durban ended the Challengers’ four-match losing streak.
Technically, Sangakkara — a left-hander with footwork, balance and timing — scores over the rest with the bat. The Sri Lankan is secure in offence or defence, has a game that is tight and solid.
He bats with a still head, plays close to his body, can innovate and create.
The southpaw can hold the innings together if the situation demands and then switch gears. Sangakkara has 182 runs in seven matches at 30.33 (strike rate 105.20).
The ball has seamed around in South Africa and Sangakkara, given his technical purity, is the key man at No. 3. The Kings XI Punjab innings has often revolved around the erudite cricketer from Kandy.
He no longer keeps wickets in Tests — the Lankan selectors want him to focus on batting in the game’s longest version — but is still impressive with the big gloves in the shorter formats.
Keeping wickets to Muttiah Muralitharan’s dazzling repertoire— standing up to spinners with variety, turn and bounce is a huge ask for a keeper — has seen Sangakkara evolve with the big gloves. He is not gifted but has a remarkable presence of mind.
Gilchrist may not please the purists behind the stumps but remains a wicket-keeper with balance, reflexes, anticipation and loads of energy. Unusually tall for a keeper — a wicket-keeper is expected to stay low and rise with the ball — he has utilised the extra inches to his advantage. Gilchrist covers a larger area while standing back.
He is also adept standing up — Gilchrist combined brilliantly with Shane Warne for Australia — and has fast hands. A Gilchrist stumping is over in a blink.
The spinners are playing a bigger role than expected in the IPL on season-end surfaces offering purchase and a keeper has been posed searching questions.
Dhoni is a much-improved keeper with greater balance but his batting has lacked sparkle. A tendency to shuffle across and work the ball on the leg-side has curtailed his range and limited his options.
Karthik’s batting skills are impressive — he can both belt the ball or play it late — but needs to work on his keeping. He suffers the odd lapse in concentration.
The additional pace and bounce in the South African pitches have demanded technical adjustments from the young Indian ’keepers. Mahesh Rawat of Rajasthan Royals has caught the eye with the quality of his gathering. He does appear a natural.
As Ian Healy, the great Aussie keeper from the past reveals, “Keeping is a lot about powerful sideways movements. A competent keeper moves on the balls of his feet for greater balance.”
The dynamics of the job change in limited overs matches. A keeper stands up to the medium pacers to deter the batsman from taking stance outside the crease and be in a better position to pouch throws rifled to him from the circle.
Gathering throws neatly and effecting speedy run-outs is a crucial aspect of keeping in Twenty20 cricket. A good keeper instinctively gets into the right position. He also has to be quick on his feet; if the field is set deep, a keeper may have to cover a larger area within the circle. Dhoni’s power and speed are evident as he pursues the ball irrespective of his pads.
There have been occasions in IPL II when Dhoni has handed over the gloves to Parthiv Patel in the climactic stages and stationed himself at mid-on or mid-off to be in a better position to converse with the bowler who might be under considerable duress. Captaincy makes severe demands, even on the coolest of keepers.
As the IPL moves into the second half, the inputs from the keeper may hold even greater value; he is the best man to assess the nature of the surface, has a clear view of the field on both sides, comprehends the angles better than most. He also has the closest look at the batsman.
And many from this tribe might waltz with the willow themselves.
Gilchrist could lead the charge.
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