With Brad Haddin sporting an aubergine rather than a shoulder it looks possible that the selectors’ biggest headache of 2015 will be brought forward for the Australian summer.
Haddin has said he was hoping to get through to the end of the World Cup, but after that it has seemed likely that we would be picking a new ‘keeper before the two-Test Caribbean stop over on the way to the One That Really Matters in the British Isles in June.
Whether that decision has to be made now or at the end of the summer remains to be seen, but made that decision will have to be.
This is a look at who will be vying for that spot when it comes open. Which ‘keeper should we be keeping an eye on this summer?
For many Mathew Wade is the obvious walk up start. Haddin’s replacement for the 2011-12 Windies tour has looked mostly capable with the gloves when playing in the Test side (except when keeping to Lyon) and is a formidable bat.
The 26-year-old Taswegian has 33 catches and three stumpings from his 12 Test matches and averages 3.5 catches a match in First Class cricket. His gloves haven’t been quite so hot in his recent First Class games, but his batting average since March is sitting at a handy 48.75.
Worth a quick mention is Chris Hartley, who has had a stellar career for Queensland stretching over 10 years. With a First Class batting average of 32.15, he has held on to over 450 nicks off the edge and mishits in his time. While definitely a solid choice, at 32 he would be a stopgap, not a long term solution. But then again, I probably would have said the same about Haddin when he got the nod aged 31.
Next is the T20 ‘keeper Ben Dunk. The stats would suggest he doesn’t hold as many as Wade, and last season’s First Class batting average of 35.33 suggests he wouldn’t be in the team as a specialist batsman either.
No one doubts his quality as a short form smash and grab specialist, but his abilities to keep day in day out of a Test match has to be questioned. I also have a personal suspicion of anyone who has studied business management.
Popping up on a few lists I’ve seen is Sam Whiteman. At 22, with 69 catches and four stumpings from 22 First Class matches, he is definitely a prospect for the future. None other than Ian Healy has said he has the potential to be as good as Gilly, and a 38.64 average in First Class cricket suggests there is batting potential there. However, patchy form for WA over the last few months probably rules him out, despite a good showing last week against Tasmania.
Being the ‘keeper at the WACA probably pumps his stats up a bit as well. English born, he has said that if circumstances had gone differently in his late teens he would be considering a career in England right now, so I say he’s out of contention until he can come within a whisper of Hawkey’s Yard Glass record to prove his allegiance.
The most likely choice, according to the stats (and assuming that Wade has had his chance) is Peter Nevill. He is averaging over 40 in First Class cricket, with a sub-50 strike rate that suggests a patience sorely lacking in the current Test team.
Even when Brad Haddin is available to keep for NSW, he stays in the side as a bat. As a former Cricket Australia Invitational captain he has been acknowledged by those-who-matter as having leadership potential. He’s no slouch with the gloves, getting his name on the score sheet over twice every time he rolls up to a cricket ground.
A 29-year-old Victorian playing for NSW, it would seem the time is ripe for Peter to get his baggy green.
Finally, I’ll give my tip. Tim Ludeman, the 27-year-old from Victoria’s Western District, had to up stumps and move to South Australia to get out from the shadow of Matthew Wade. The stats would suggest that he is as capable behind the stumps as Wade and Nevill, he has age over Nevill and not having played in India last year over Wade. However, what sticks out like a sore toe is his First Class batting average: 25.04. That is not good enough for a wicket keeper-batsman.
That raises the question of whether we should be looking for a wicket keeper-batsman. There is no denying that Australians were spoilt by Gilly. Often referred to as a once-in-a-generation player, that label suggests that we should be able to replace like with like as we change generations.
Gilly’s First Class batting average was 44, his Test average 47. Whether or not he could keep, there was always the argument he should be in the side as a batsman. However, let’s look at a few other stats:
These are the top four longest serving Australian keepers from the pre-Gilly era. Using today’s metric of ‘must be a wicket keeper batsman’ none of these guys would have been given the nod.
Each of these players had several contemporary batsmen with averages of 40, so it’s not just a matter of ‘the game has changed’, it’s that we’ve changed what we think a wicketkeeper should be. And it’s true, the game has changed, probably more so since Gilly retired than in the time between Marsh and Gilly.
Thanks largely to T20, bowlers can bat now. Sure, they may not be able to grind out centuries like a wicketkeeper batsman, but the likes of Mitch Johnson, Peter Siddle and Mitch Starc have it in them to go out and either support a batsman through a partnership or slog out some quick runs.
I’ve left out Nathan Lyon here, as I know my desire to see him bat #3 is completely irrational and comes mainly from a place of humour, but I love watching him block. It may not be pretty, but we expect things out of our bowlers (and they deliver) that Dennis Lillee or Glenn McGrath never could.
So I ask, with such a strong tail, should the emphasis be on wicket keeper-batsman, or should we just pick the best wicket keeper for the job?
I know this article is stats heavy, and probably misses insights that many of you who have watched the next generation of keepers play more than I have, so I encourage you to tell me how wrong I am in the comments.
However, to support my choice of Ludeman, the acrobat with the reflexes of a cat, I will leave you with this.
Oh, and this.