Wicket-Keeping as Art

Even though I only managed to see the game's second half - on account of following a large group of elite cyclists around Dartmoor - yesterday's final of the CB40 competition between Hampshire and Warwickshire had an inevitable sense of wistfulness about it.

For one thing it was the final game of the English professional season - a season which has been far from outstanding (the sublime, unforgettable batting of Hashim Amla aside) and which has been plagued by truly terrible weather - but the final game of the season nonetheless. And it also caused me to reflect on the days when the September final of what was then a knock-out competition really was the climax of the season.

Teams were at full-strength and players played in the knowledge that a good performance could - for good or ill, and it was often the latter - gain them a place in a winter tour party. Teams weren't weakened because their players had already departed to play twenty over cricket for their country on a distant island.

Every seat was taken and the air bristled with partisanship.

Those days are gone for ever, and the CB40 is a clumsily scheduled, unloved competition, but yesterday's game had something.

Not just a thriling finish, but the truly superb wicket-keeping of Michael Bates.

Hampshire have a rare collection of young players, even if the majority of them have only shown their best form so far in one-day cricket: Liam Dawson, James Vince, Chris Wood, Danny Briggs, and Bates. After their win in the Twenty20 competition a few weeks ago, Briggs and Wood received the plaudits, but I felt at the time that Bates's keeping had been unfairly overlooked.

Yesterday the 21 year-old was at his best again, standing up to spin and seam and producing a series of unfussy yet brilliant takes which, in their agility and precision, carried echoes of the ghost of English wicket-keeping's glorious past. Of Knott, of Taylor, of Keith Andrew, of late period Jack Russell, standing up to the stumps to the likes of Mike Smith and Ian Harvey as Gloucestershire strangled the life out of side after side.

Bates will have to improve his batting a lot to get anywhere near to international cricket, and, indeed, to maintain a place in his county side in the longer term, but, whatever happens, his career is going to be worth following.

For this was wicket-keeping as art.


livescore said...

Well certainly you have brought our attention to one of the most demanding question of all the time in Cricket that whether there should be a specialist wicket-keeper or not.Now a days most of the teams considers the benefit of including a wicket-keeper batsman instead of specialist wicket-keeper because of the extra advantage of a batsman.But I think that wicket-keeping should be considered as a separate profession of the game.

Brian Carpenter said...

Thanks, livescore.

Keeping always was a separate specialism, but that has become less obvious in recent years with the rise of the batsman-keeper, which is why Bates is so alluring.

Old-fashioned excellence in a very demanding discipline.

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