Thursday, 3 May 2007

Keeping our Options Open

There is little at the moment that gets a cricket conversation going like the question “who would you have as England’s wicket-keeper?” For the last 2-3 years, the debate over Jones or Read (with Foster, Prior and Davies thrown in) has raged on message boards across the internet. And that’s without mentioning the current ODI keeper. Even after my first County Championship review, I was reminded not to forget about Phil Mustard. Therefore in the spirit of fairness, I will look at the eighteen possibilities, most of whom are supported by someone for the England job.

29 year old James Pipe the man with the gloves. Formerly at Worcester, where he was the understudy to Steven Rhodes for many years, he was eased out in favour of Steven Davies and moved to Derby last season. Over 500 runs in a struggling Derbyshire team last season.

The aforementioned Phil Mustard is here. One of the younger wicket-keepers, aged 24, he scored over 800 runs last season with a healthy strike-rate. The Durham pace attack means that he rarely has to keep to spin, which may work against him in the future. However, he is clearly one for the future, particularly in the limited overs game.

James Foster made his England debut in 2001 and was the man to replace Alec Stewart, until he broke his arms in the nets and was overtaken by Chris Read, Geraint Jones and Matt Prior. Still only 27, he has a first class double-hundred to his name, which makes his continued exile the more puzzling as England looked for a wicket-keeper batsman.

Mark Wallace made his county debut aged 17 was Glamorgan’s regular keeper at the age of 19 and is still only 25. One of Glamorgan’s few successes with the bat over the past couple of years, he is also highly rated with the gloves and has spent several winters in the England academy.

Steve Adshead was the man who replaced Jack Russell at Gloucester, having moved from Leicester. A first class average of over 30 with the bat and topped the Gloucester averages in the Pro 40 last season.

South African born Nic Pothas arrived as a Kolpak player, but is now England qualified. He played three ODIs for South Africa, but the continuing presence of Mark Boucher prevented him from building an international career. A vital part of the Hampshire team, he has the added difficulty of keeping to Shane Warne. Unlikely to figure in the England thinking because of his age (33) and background rather than his talent.

Geraint Jones was England’s last regular wicket-keeper, but a huge loss of form with the bat, and the replacement of Duncan Fletcher, makes it very unlikely that he will feature again in the near future. Brought into the team on the back of his batting prowess, he initially scored runs, with a ton against New Zealand. However, his wicket-keeping, although improving, was never test standard and some will claim that it could have cost us the Ashes. He was a part of the 2005 team though, even if he probably lost his place for good during the 2006-2007 return series.

Having started at Somerset, Luke Sutton moved from Derbyshire in 2005 having captained them for two years to replace the retiring Warren Hegg. Still only 30, he is described as a handy lower-middle order batsman. The presence of Murali in the Lancs team this season should give him plenty of opportunity to show what he can do with the gloves.

Aged 36, Paul Nixon has been one of the best glovemen in the English game for a number of years. However, being not quite as good with the gloves as Jack Russell or quite as good with the bat as Alec Stewart meant that International honours nearly passed him by. However, his prowess in the 20 over form of the game got him an ODI call up and he was one of England’s few successes in the world cup. He should remain a fixture in the ODI team until at least the 20:20 world cup at the end of the summer. A test place may just be a step too far though.

David Nash was earmarked for greater things and has played 12 U19 tests. However, his batting and keeping never pushed on to the next level and instead he is looking over his shoulder at the challenge of Ben Scott.

Currently the man in possession here is Riki Wessels, son of former coach and Australian and South African player, Kepler. Wessels has signed on a Kolpak arrangement. However, Northants have also signed Irish wicket-keeper Niall O’Brien, who had a hugely successful World Cup. O’Brien will be England qualified at the end of the summer and the battle between the keepers could be an interesting one to watch.

Widely thought to be the best keeper in English cricket, Chris Read first played for England in 1999 aged just 21. Famously out while ducking a Chris Cairns slower ball, his batting reputation has never fully recovered from that, despite some high quality innings for Notts. He returned to the test team last summer, averaging a healthy 42, before being controversially dropped for the start of the Ashes series. He finally regained his place, but without being in any sort of form with the bat. He now looks to be behind Prior and Nixon in the battle for the England team. However, his prowess with the gloves means that the arguments will continue if he is not picked.

Craig Kieswetter played for South Africa in the 2005-6 U19 World Cup then decided to try to qualify for England, initially as a Kolpak, having been educated at Milfield. Clearly highly thought of by the South Africans, he looks to have an international future for someone.

Jon Batty got his chance with Surrey with the close proximity of Alec Stewart’s retirement and the tragic accident that befell Graham Kersey. Now 33, Batty opens the innings for Surrey to great effect, and is one of the better batsman of the wicket-keepers in the English game. It would be a surprise if he was now called up, but not un-merited.

Currently the favourite to start the first test, Matt Prior averages nearly 40 in first class cricket, was a major contributor to the Sussex successes last season and with Mustaq in the team, has had to keep to high quality spin as well as seam. He has played ODI games for England and toured as understudy to Geraint Jones in 2005-6. However, he was unconvincing in the England games he has played to date. His first class record means that he deserves a chance at the higher level. However, should he fail, there are a number waiting to step in.

An interesting situation could develop here. Warwick have signed Kumar Sangakkara, who is arguably the best wicket-keeper batsman in the world. However, also on the books is Tim Ambrose, who has moved from Sussex where Matt Prior was limiting his chances. Ambrose has immediately made his mark (and is currently 197 not out against Worcester)

According to most experts, it’s not if but when does Steven Davies take the England gloves. Still only 20, the selectors may look at the problems that Read and Foster had being thrust into the test team too early and allow him to settle in the first class game. His time will come, but probably not just yet.

Gerard Brophy and Simon Guy are battling it out to be Yorkshire’s first choice keeper. Brophy, an ex-Kolpak but now England qualified is a hard hitting lower order batsman who has started this season much better than he played last. Guy is a promising youngster who is now 28. Neither will be holding their breath for England call ups and Yorkshire fans are watching the progress of the current U19 keeper, Greg Wood, with interest.

The verdict
I’d have Chris Read every time, as I believe that the batting should be a bonus. However, with the lack of a genuine all-rounder in the current England team (until Flintoff sorts out his batting), then James Foster or Matt Prior deserve their chance.


Whinging Pom said...

Nice post. That gives a fair opion of each keeper and lays out all the options. Just one thing - Wessels from Northants is qualified as an englaish player and I would personally say he has an outside chance of playing for England in the future. He is a highly skilled gloveman and not too bad with the bat.

I agree with you on Read - but it sadly looks like that won't happen.

allrounder said...

I admit I'm partisan here - and I suppose I'd grudgingly say that Prior has almost as good a case - but I'd have to go with Fozzy. He didn't actually fail during his initial England experience (just got a bad break, as it were) and he's continued to plough a productive furrow back at Essex. His average is better than both Read's and Jones' at Test and County level, and I can't understand why he's been abandoned for the last five years. Tis a shame.

Tim said...

Great post.

Pothas and Flower are probably the best two that are qualified for the First Test, but there would rightly be outcry if either were picked.

At the start of the season, I would have gone for Prior, but he needs a score. But England need experience right now, and being a firm believer that you only pick your time to win the next game, I am increasingly warming to Nixon.

Chrispy said...

I find myself leaning towards Foster, though I think Prior deserves his chance.Eventually it will be Davies as u say.

Richard Lake said...

Well it won't be Flower now, Tim, unless he picks himself.

WP - thanks for the correction. I notice that both Wessels and O' Brien were playing for Northants in the last round of games. Do you know who had the gloves?

Chrispy said...

O'Brien interestingly, who was in a tug of war between club and country! Club won for once. Says it all for the power of Irish cricket still.