“We pick too many mediocre batsmen. Back in the day, Matty Hayden had to peel off thousand-run Shield season after thousand-run Shield season and average north of fifty just to get a look in.”
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Wicketkeeping is often a thankless job. Sometimes, it can seem like you are only readily apparent when you make a mistake, while hours of hard work seem to go unnoticed.
Malcolm Knox’s latest book, The Keepers, sets about the daunting task of chronicling the history of Australian wicketkeepers back to the 1870s. As usual, Knox has done an outstanding job.
Beginning with the scarcely believable longevity of ‘The Prince’, Jack Blackham, The Keepers not only provides a unique insight into the psyche of the central player in all Australian sides, but also offers a fascinating commentary on the broader history of Australian cricket.
Knox puts the reader right among the action, employing highly engaging prose and adeptly using of historical accounts and quotes from players and opponents. The excellent combination of storytelling and analysis make The Keepers a great read.
The title of this review is a quote from Blackham. He provided the quote when asked for his advice for aspiring wicketkeepers after his eventual retirement following a 17-year international career. It beautifully typifies the wry wit common among glovemen, while highlighting just how demanding life behind the stumps can be.
Skilfully avoiding the trap of endless comparison some sports writers fall into, Knox instead sets about demonstrating the weird and wonderful fraternity that wicketkeepers across the globe belong to.
While Wally Grout and others masked and occasionally lied about the severity of injuries to ‘never give a sucker an even break’, the history of Australian wicketkeeping is also full of a generous sharing of knowledge and experience with peers, successors and future generations.
The evolution of ‘keeping from a specialist position, with early glovemen batting at number ten, to genuine all-rounders capable of scoring centuries, is also explored in expansive detail. The Keepers is a rollicking tome, bringing to life past greats and skilfully analysing more recent generations.
Knox takes the reader on a fascinating journey from the legendary Bert Oldfield and Don Tallon, through to the pioneering selection of Rod Marsh and on to the swashbuckling infusion of Adam Gilchrist, who changed the role of wicketkeepers with his dominant batting.
The story concludes with a beautiful genealogy of sorts, demonstrating clear lines of knowledge and tradition passed down from generation to generation at national and state level among the ‘keeping fraternity.
The Keepers is a highly recommended read for all fans of cricketing history, and is available now through Penguin Books, who kindly suppled the book to the writer for review.