CW Specials: Three wicket-keepers in a Test XI – is this a record? – Kersi Meher-Homji
A wicket-keeper in a team is like a pianist in an orchestra. There is room for only one.
A cricket team usually has five to six specialist batsmen, an all-rounder, two to three quickies and one or two spinners. But only one wicket-keeper. My heart goes out for the wicket-keepers. You may be the best glove man in the country but if someone is a better batsman, you may miss out on selection – especially at Test level.
This is changing of late. In the One Day Internationals against the West Indies last month India included two stumpers; MS Dhoni and Rishbah Pant, the former keeping wickets. In the T20 Internationals against the West Indies India also included to stumpers; Pant and Dinesh Karthik, the former keeping wickets. This pattern was repeated in the T20Is against Australia last week.
I recall the Calcutta Test of 1964-65 when India included two wicket-keepers against New Zealand; Farokh Engineer keeping wickets while Budhi Kunderan fielded. There are other instances in Test arena when a country included two keepers.
But England set a record in the Test series against Sri Lanka in Colombo on November 23 when they fielded three wicket-keepers; Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler and Ben Foakes. The first two ran in the deep as fielders and scoring runs while Foakes donned gloves and pads.
Batting at no.3 in the above Test, Bairstow top scored with 110 runs, hitting nine fours and a six. He had to overcome some painful bouts of cramp in the intense heat and humidity. This was caused in part by his immobility while wearing a cast on his foot, following the ankle injury he had sustained while warming up in a game of football during the one-day series. He also appeared disappointed not wearing the ’keepers gloves.
According to Andrew Miller of ESPNcricinfo: “Bairstow insisted that his instant success as England’s new No.3 would not distract him from his ultimate goal of winning back the Test wicket-keeper’s role, after his emotionally charged century had underpinned England’s batting on the first day of the third Test at Colombo.
According to Bairstow, “The bits behind the scenes, when you’re doing your rehab and sleeping on an ice machine, the things that people don’t see and yet have an opinion on it. It’s all well and good when things are going well and people have an opinion on how well you’re playing, but it’s the hidden things that they don’t see.”
Bairstow’s injury was behind Foakes making his Test debut as a ‘keeper. Foakes’s century on debut at Galle, in addition to his faultless glove work, made selectors prefer him as their wicket-keeper of choice. It was only the injury to England’s batsman Sam Curran that Bairstow was handed an opportunity to return to the team as a specialist number three batsman. And how he seized the opportunity!
By a weird ‘wickey’ coincidence, Bairstow was voted Player of the above Test and Foakes Player of the Series on 26 November.
What about Buttler? He is selectors’ choice as a wicket-keeper batsman in limited overs cricket but as a specialist batsman at Test level. Call it an embarrassment of riches!
If you think three wicket-keepers (Foakes, Bairstow and Buttler) in one Test is unique, listen to this. A bizarre record was set in the Lord’s Test of July 1986 between England and New Zealand. During New Zealand’s first innings, the wicket-keeping duties were shared by four players, Bill Athey (first two overs), Bob Taylor (overs 3 to 76), Bobby Parks (overs 77 to 140) and Bruce French (the final ball).
Karthik Parimal of Cricket Country headlining his story A tale of four Bs wrote, “On July 25, 1986, England fielded four wicketkeepers at various times, owing to an injury to the original man Bruce French. Two of the substitutes included Bob Taylor — the legend who was already two years into his retirement and Bobby Parks — the Hampshire cricketer who never donned a Test cap again.”
Of the four, only Athey and French were in the Test XI. My question to Cricket Writer readers: “Were substitutes allowed to keep wickets in the past?
Coming back to 2018. Do Dhoni, Pant and Karthik for India; Foakes, Bairstow and Buttler for England; Tim Paine, Alex Carey and possibly Matthew Wade for Australia sum up the horses for courses attitude of selectors around the world today?
Kersi-Meher Homji is one of Australia’s foremost cricket writers. His 14th book: ‘From Bradman to Kohli’ will be released soon.