Does England’s T20 World Cup squad contain enough top-order wicketkeepers?

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Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Phil Salt: what does that say to you about hard-hitting, top order wicketkeeper-batters? There’s too many of them? That’s one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is people like them – let’s have some more of them.

It’s widely acknowledged that it’s all Adam Gilchrist’s fault. Gilchrist totally knackered things up for wicketkeepers who batted at seven at Tests, but he also set a template where wicketkeepers open the batting in limited overs cricket.

Back in 2007, in the eye of this ideological storm, England hit upon the idea of asking whoever was their best wicketkeeper to open the batting. When this didn’t work, they had a trawl around for the best English wicketkeeper who already did open the batting. Geraint Jones, Matt Prior, Phil Mustard, Steven Davies, Craig Kieswetter – they all had a go. Going a little further back, even Marcus Trescothick did the job a handful of times.

We’re not quite sure how, but this notion that you win white ball matches by having a wicketkeeper at the top of the order seems to have cemented itself to the extent that a very large proportion of English wicketkeepers now open in short format cricket.

Or is it that a lot of attacking top order batters have started keeping wicket? We don’t even know. Can these things even be separated any more, or is it just a statement of fact that keeping and leathering it right from ball one of an innings are two necessary aspects of something we all now agree is a single recognised job?

But back to the “let’s have some more of them” element. You wouldn’t know it from some of the reporting, but England’s 15-man T20 World Cup squad is provisional. History suggests that can be a signficant detail when it comes to England World Cup squads.

We don’t have to cast our minds back too far to remember that Jason Roy was in the provisional squad for last year’s 50-over World Cup, and look how that turned out. Four years earlier, David Willey was in a preliminary squad for the 2019 tournament but missed out at the last minute, despite having been an integral part of England’s white ball renaissance in the four years before.

That preliminary v provisional distinction is an interesting one. If one implies mere pencilling-in, what kind of stationery are you supposed to use for the other? It probably doesn’t matter. All any would-be England cricketer cares about is that final, inked-in squad. Until then, it’s not too late to hone your pitch.

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    1. By Sean Paul and… Kes?

      I am choosing not to look Kes up and assume that it is the original Yorkshire Kestrel contributing to the anthem. To make doubly sure that I am not disabused of this idea, I am going to try not to even listen to the song itself for as long as possible.

  1. I was under the impression that being a wicket keeper batsman is like being a genuine all-rounder & hence improves your chances of being picked into the squad (at the expense of specialist batsmen)

    I vaguely remember sri lankan (or new zealand) test teams full of wicket keepers !!??

    1. Yeah, but at a certain point the value of also being a wicketkeeper tails off massively.

      First choice = vital.

      Second choice = meaningful.

      Third choice = belt and braces, might get you the edge over someone of basically identical standard with the bat.

      Fourth choice = never going to keep wicket, meaningless.

      1. That is true of any specialist in general (left arm spin, offspin, wrist spin etc.). But at the lower level these players get a leg-up and a chance to standout (as long as they represent different domestic teams) thus giving themselves a better opportunity to eventually crack the higher level.

        That is my theory.

  2. Anyone else find it a bit ironic that the rise of the ever shorter formats has been accompanied by the rise of the opening or top-order wicket-keeper, or even spare keeper? Many many decades ago, and I think almost all before the advent of pyjama cricket, there were specialist wicket-keepers who batted down with the bowlers – in some cases as low as number 11. In first-class matches where, depending on the toss and any declaration or innings win, you’d expect them to bat at least once and in just shy of half your matches to bat twice. So those teams really had to pay the cost of that inept batting, which I guess is why the phenomenon has (completely?) disappeared now.

    But in short-form cricket, if your number 11 is having to bat at all, it probably won’t be for many balls and you likely were going to lose regardless of what your worst batter can pull off. So if you’re going to carry a specialist fielder in the most valuable fielding position, in a form of the game where every run prevented is valuable in a way that doesn’t feel so pressing in a first-class game, T20 seems like the variant where the cost of a specialist keeper is least.

    Admittedly it could mess up the balance of the team, maybe left with with too long a tail or forced to squeeze some all-rounders in to compensate for the lack of batting depth, and perhaps the gap between absolutely specialist wicket-keepers and modern wicketkeeper-batters just isn’t big enough to justify it. Even so, I like to imagine there’s a parallel universe out there with a variant of short-form cricket where the super-sub rule evolved into kind of “designated hitter” role, in which wicket-keepers are expected to field but not bat.

    Perhaps cricket should go the other way. If a bowler is only allowed to bowl 4 overs maybe a keeper should only be allowed to keep for 4 overs? This would make for some fascinating tactical choices, give more meaning to all those third-choice keepers out there, and from a spectator point of view gives us the juicy prospect of some hilarious calamities. People say elite sport is all about marvelling at the skill of the best players in the world, but at least in small does we all enjoy watching bowlers bat and batters bowl. The fifth-choice keeper would be an excellent addition to this roster.

  3. They’re not giving Jimmy a second test of this upcoming series, the shits.

    A pity… he was really keen on that.

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