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The wicket-keeper (also spelt wicketkeeper and often shortened to keeper) in the sport of cricket is the player on the fielding side who stands behind the wicket being guarded by the batsman currently on strike. It is essentially a specialist role although a keeper is occasionally called upon to bowl, in which case another member of the fielding side temporarily keeps wicket. The role of the keeper is governed by Law 40 of the Laws of Cricket and is similar to that of the catcher in baseball.

Purposes

The keeper's major function is to stop deliveries that pass the batsman (in order to prevent runs being scored), but he can also attempt to dismiss the batsman in various ways:

  • The most common dismissal effected by the keeper is for him to catch a ball that has nicked the batsman's bat, called an edge, before it bounces. Sometimes the keeper is also in the best position to catch a ball which has been hit high in the air. More catches are taken by wicket-keepers than by any other fielding position.
  • The keeper can stump the batsman by using the ball to remove the bails from the stumps, if the batsman has come out of his crease during a delivery.
  • When the ball is hit into the outfield, the keeper moves close to the stumps to catch the return throw from a fielder and, if possible, to run out a batsman.

A keeper's position depends on the bowler: for fast bowling he will crouch some distance from the stumps, in order to have time to react to edges from the batsman, while for slower bowling, he will come much nearer to the stumps (known as "standing up"), to pressure the batsman into remaining within the crease or risk being stumped. The more skilled the keeper, the faster the bowling to which he is able to "stand up", for instance Godfrey Evans often stood up to Alec Bedser. [1]

Wicket-keeping is a specialist discipline and it requires training consistent with the level expected of a specialist batsman or bowler. However, the modern-day keeper is also expected to possess reasonable batting skill, suiting him for the middle order at least. Wicket-keepers who are also capable of batting at the top of the order are known informally as keeper/batsmen.

Since there is only room for one keeper in a cricket side, selectors (especially at the international level) are often faced with a difficult choice between two or more skilled keepers. Often, one of the two keepers is an exceptional keeper, but only an average batsman, whereas the other is a keeper/batsman who is clearly better at batting, but not quite as good a keeper as his rival. One such selection dilemma was that faced by England selectors in the 1990s between Jack Russell (the pure keeper) and Alec Stewart (the keeper/batsman). They were never able to consistently choose between the two until 1998, when Russell began to fade: prior to that, they had regularly swapped the role, often with Stewart maintaining his place when not wicket-keeping thanks to his batting skill. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Kumar Sangakkara, Brendon McCullum and Mark Boucher are the top keeper/batsmen today in cricket.

The keeper may also have a captaincy role. Uniquely, they are usually involved in every delivery of an innings, and may be in a position to see things that the captain misses. They can frequently be heard encouraging the bowler, and may also indulge in the practice (not meant to be overheard) of "sledging" the batsman with well timed comments about their skill, appearance or personal habits.

The keeper is the only fielder allowed to touch the ball with protective equipment, typically large padded gloves with webbing between the index finger and thumb, but no other webbing. The protection offered by the gloves is not always adequate. The England keeper Alan Knott sometimes placed steaks inside his gloves for added cushioning. Wicket-keepers also tend to wear leg pads and a box to protect the groin area.

Wicket-keepers are allowed to take off their pads and bowl, and this is not uncommon when matches are drifting to draws or a bowling team is desperate for a wicket. Two keepers have removed their pads and taken hat-tricks in first-class cricket: Probir Sen for Bengal v Orissa at Cuttack in 1954-55 and A.C. (Alan) Smith for Warwickshire v Essex at Clacton in 1965; Smith was a most unusual player in that he was primarily a wicket-keeper, but was sometimes selected as a frontline bowler.

Substitutes

According to Law 2 of the Laws of Cricket, a substitute (taking the place of an ill or injured player) may not keep wicket.[2]

This rule is sometimes suspended, by agreement with the captain of the batting side, although Law 2 does not provide for such agreement to be made. For example, during the England—New Zealand Test Match at Lord's in 1986, England's specialist keeper, Bruce French was injured during England's first innings. England then used 4 keepers in New Zealand's first innings: Bill Athey kept for the first two overs; 45-year-old veteran Bob Taylor was pulled out of the sponsor's tent to keep, immaculately, for overs 3 to 76; Bobby Parks, the Hampshire keeper, was called up for overs 77 to 140; and Bruce French kept wicket for the final ball of the innings.

Leading Test match wicket-keepers

The following wicket-keepers have taken 200 or more dismissals in Test cricket.

Leading Test match wicket-keepers by dismissals1
No Name Country Matches Caught Stumped Total dismissals
1Mark Boucher2South Africa12645322475
2Adam GilchristAustralia9637937416
3Ian HealyAustralia11936629395
4Rod MarshAustralia9634312355
5Jeffrey DujonWest Indies812675272
6Alan KnottEngland9525019269
7Alec StewartEngland8222714241
8Wasim BariPakistan8120127228
9=Ridley JacobsWest Indies6520712219
9=Godfrey EvansEngland9117346219
11Adam ParoreNew Zealand781977204

Notes in Table

  1. Statistics are correct as of 20 May 2009
  2. Indicates current player

Leading One day wicket-keepers

The following wicket-keepers have taken 200 or more dismissals in one day cricket.

Leading one day wicket-keepers by dismissals1
No name Country Matches Caught Stumped Total dismissals
1Adam GilchristAustralia28741755472
2Mark Boucher2South Africa28038521406
3Moin KhanPakistan21921473 287
4Kumar Sangakkara2Sri Lanka24620864272
5Ian HealyAustralia16819439233
6Rashid LatifPakistan16618238220
7Romesh KaluwitharanaSri Lanka18913175206
8Jeffrey DujonWest Indies16918321204

Notes in Table

  1. Statistics are correct as of 20 May 2009
  2. Indicates current player

See also

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