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Saturday, March 22, 2008

The best wicket-keeper in business

The recent retirement of Mark Gilchrist, after the hard-fought test series against India, has left a gaping hole in the Aussie batting line-up. Time will gradually show what a great player he was and how Australia used to benefit from his skills. Was he the best wicketkeeper when he was still active? Probably not. During his last 1-2 years, especially in test matches, his batting had fallen below his usual levels. His wicket-keeping had declined, even though one could consider it to be better than most international test keepers.

Now that he is no more in the frame, the question then re-surfaces once again. Who is the better keeper among the trio - Kumar Sangakarra, Mark Boucher, MS Dhoni. We will compare their exploits in the test arena only and as is the definition of a wicket-keeper these days, consider the batting and keeping skills of these players. The question that comes up naturally is, what should be the skills that a wicket-keeper should possess? A wicket-keeper should be given a weightage of 60% for his keeping skills and 40% for his batting skills, since his primary responsibility is that of keeping. Let us try to grade the three of them on a scale of one to three, 1 being the lowest and 3 being the highest.

Kumar Sangakarra is definitely the best batsman of the three. He has shown that he is one of the pillars of Sri Lankan batting, probably more than the captain himself. In recent times, the wicket-keeping responsibilities has been moved to another keeper especially in the test matches. When this happens, the statistics show that Kumar scores more runs than when he is the keeper. Of course, even when he is the keeper, the runs he scores are quite high. Kumar gets a 3 for his batting skills and 1 for his keeping skills.

Mark Boucher is the best keeper of the two, based on his keeping skills alone. Some of his catches are legendary, especially on the leg-side of the right-hand batsmen. His keeping has not wavered at all, unlike Adam Gilchrist, even when he is keeping to the new generation of bowlers like the Morkel brothers, Dale Steyn. His batting has probably gone down a notch. His previous exploits of shoring the lower order of the Proteas, has not been seen in recent times. He would get a 3 for his keeping skills and 1 for his batting skills.

MS Dhoni is the more balanced keeper among the three. His batting has been consistent, though he was not as good in the test matches as the ODI tri-series in Australia. His keeping has improved and he hardly missed anything in the series. Of course, the vice-captaincy in test matches and captaincy in the ODI arena has not affected his keeping or batting. He would get 2 for both his keeping and batting skills.

Applying the weightage as mentioned above, it is clear that Mark Boucher is the best keeper in the world now. A wicket-keeper can be a good batsman, but he has to perform the activities of keeping first. Otherwise, the balance of the team gets affected. If the weightages were made 50% each, it is seen that all the three of them score the same. This shows that the difference between the top three keepers in the world is a very fine line.
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