Thursday, 4 February 2016

Find us Keepers

It's been a tough few weeks for international keepers. Cameron Bancroft missed Suresh Raina off the Indian match winner's second ball, in a moment that defined the recent Australia v India one day series. Jonny Bairstow's travails have been well documented on these pages as teams all around the world try and fit the extra batsman into their side. However, it's starting to cost them dearly. As they are finding out, Gilchrists don't grow on trees.

Adam Gilchrist changed the role of a keeper. Destructive, brilliant and game changing with the bat, his glovework was exceptional too. You don't keep that long to the likes of Shane Warne or Stuart MacGill if the hands aren't up to Test class; not in that side that they had anyway. Teams now want that to be the norm, yet the likes of Gilchrist weren't ever seen before and I am wondering if they will be seen again.

In Alan Knott and Bob Taylor we had two world class performers but even at county level back in the eighties the likes of Paul Downton, Bruce French and even Colin Metson were excellent technicians with the gloves. Then along came Jack Russell who was up there with Knott and Taylor as one of the best that I have seen. Russell should have played many more times for England, yet Alec Stewart got the nod. A fine batsman Stewie was, but nowhere near the Gloucestershire gloveman when it came to the nuts and bolts of keeping. of the best

One way of looking at keeping would be to take away the runs that the batsman scores from missed chances against the runs he scores for his team. The tests in the UAE and South Africa would make grim reading and I don't think we have been punished that badly for our mistakes.

Bairstow struggled in South Africa. He deserves his place in the side on batting alone but England need to change their man behind the sticks before it costs them too many. If they want to be number one in the world, that is. Buttler, despite his brilliance is similar to Bairstow. Billings, the next cab off the rank isn't the answer either in my opinion and again a batsman who can don the gloves as opposed to an out and out keeper. Bairstow has a brilliant work ethic but he has technical problems that need sorting out. He moves the wrong way initially leaving a huge gap between him and Cook at first slip. This is because his weight is wrong and therefore he struggles to push off of his left foot. Many of the chances he missed were low and to his right. This comes from rising too early, and the ground where he kept well was Johannesburg, one which has plenty of carry and where a keeper takes it at head height. It negated his deficiencies with the low snicks.

We spoke with Jack Russell a year ago and he told us that James Foster and John Simpson were technically on a different level to anyone else in the country. Saying that, I think Chris Read and Mark Wallace are also excellent. For Foster, Read and Wallace, their ship may have sailed at their age but Simpson at twenty seven would be my vote for the England job. Yes, I'm biased, yes I am a Middlesex man but why wouldn't you pick someone from the second best side in the country in four day cricket last year? keeper

People have this perception of Simpson that he struggles with the bat. Ask the bowling attack of Yorkshire, probably the strongest in the country and who he compiled an outstanding hundred against, coming in when his side were 15-4. Ask the fans of Middlesex who can't believe he hasn't even made the Lions squad, whilst a host of Division Two batsmen who keep a bit get the nod. A career average of thirty is reasonable and not that far behind those who are supposed to be batsmen. These are also Division One runs. If we had Simpson in the side, I can guarantee you that there wouldn't be the amount of missed chances that there have been recently. Go and watch him in action, where he makes keeping at Lord's, a ground which has troubled some of the best with its slope and swing after the stumps, look easy.

For me I would bat him at eight, shifting Compo up to open, Taylor at three, keep Joe Root where he is, scoring runs at four, Bairstow at five and move Ali to seven. Moeen is too good for eight at Test level. Simpson is a nuisance coming in down the order for Middlesex and has the ability to grind it out or to give it some long handle. A stylish left hander, some of his cover driving is outstanding to watch. He finished in the top ten in T20 averages last year, one place above Brendon McCullum.

Simpson gives a side energy, as all good keepers should and keeps his bowlers going. Keeping to seamers who nibble the ball around such as Tim Murtagh, Toby Roland-Jones, James Harris and Steven Finn he picked up fifty victims last year, way ahead of anyone else in the country. He hardly dropped any.

Another chance goes missing for England

England do have some excellent keepers around. Michael Bates is one whose glovework is outstanding and keep an eye on Ryan Davies at Somerset who at eighteen has a huge future ahead of him.

We just have to stop this obsession with turning batsmen into keepers. A good keeper is worth his weight in gold.

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