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Should wicket keepers be allowed to be replaced during a game?

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Roar Guru
13th January, 2021
1042 Reads

The bowler runs in and bowls, and the batsman lets it go through to the keeper.

The keeper passes it to first slip, and the ball makes its way through gully, cover, mid-off and back to the bowler.

This might happen roughly two balls of every over.

The bowler runs in and the batsman plays it defensively on the offside. It’s picked up by a fielder at cover who throws it to the keeper, and because he is up at the stumps, he by passes the slips and tosses it to silly mid-on, who then throws it up to mid-on who then gives it back to the bowler.

Next ball, the batsman plays defensively up to mid-on or mid-off, who pauses to confirm no run will be attempted, and then he starts shining it on his creams and as the bowler passes him on his way back to his mark he gives it to him ready for the next delivery.

The last two balls of the over sees runs scored, down the ground in the first instance and the chasing fielder picks it up inside the boundary and throws it to the bowler’s end – because it’s closer – and then both batsmen and fielding side turn their attention to the next delivery.

The next scoring shot is to fine leg for a comfortable single, so naturally this time the throw is to the keeper’s end. The ball is dead and the umpire calls “over”.


The ball can go dead for at least a couple of dozen reasons under the Laws of the Game, and the most common way for the ball to go dead is when both the batsmen at the wicket and the fielding side both consider it to be no longer in play.

If we take a stab in the dark and say that the average Test innings lasts about 100 overs and the average total about 300 – and perhaps 120 of those in boundaries – then 40 times out of 600, the ball will go dead because either it has reached the boundary, or a batsman has been dismissed.

The other 560 times is equivalent to about 93 completed overs.

I would take another stab in the dark and say that on the 95 per cent of occasions that the ball does not reach the boundary, nor is a batsman dismissed, that one in three times the keeper is the only member of the fielding side to handle the ball before it goes dead, a la the batsman simply let’s it go through.

Perhaps one in three times the keeper is the last to handle the ball before it goes dead, having previously been handled by another member of the fielding side, while also one in three times, one of the other ten fielders handles the ball but returns it straight back to the bowler.

What I am getting at is that the keeper probably handles the ball in play an equal amount of time to all other ten members of the fielding side combined.

Generic cricket fielding pink ball

(Photo by Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)


Regarding the law change in late 2017 that now allows a substitute fielder to wicket keep, I have surmised in various comments’ sections around The Roar that perhaps it was because that to forbid a substitute from keeping was as illogical as forbidding one to field in slips. Similarly, it would be like preventing a substitute fielder from lurking in the covers or short midwicket, possessing a dead-eyed dick of accuracy in hitting the stumps or even to patrol the boundary because the substitute fielder has a particularly strong throwing arm.

I have also yawned on more than one occasion when someone has suggested that India played the last Test with 12 players against our 11. After all, substitute fielders are still prohibited from bowling, acting as captain and of course batting (except as a like for like replacement in the case of ascertained concussion).

What got me thinking was my previously held belief that one could argue either way in this particular case. However, now I am leaning back towards considering that 2017 alteration to this particular law to be a mistake.

Although it is true that keeping is a specialist fielding position just like fielding in the slips or in the covers or anywhere else. There are several things that make it a unique fielding position. The obvious one is that the keeper is allowed to field the ball and catch wearing protective gloves as well as external padding on the legs.

Another is that a keeper stays in the same position the entire innings, whereas slips can be removed and then reinstated – and this is the same for any other fielding position.

We can add to that the fact that there is also a Law of Cricket that says that if a keeper did happen to move into a position that would be considered an abnormal place for a keeper to expect to take a delivery from the bowler then the keeper is no longer allowed to wear the gloves and external leg padding.

I am assuming that this law came about as a result of what Mike Brearley did in an ODI at the SCG in the first ever World Series Cup in 1979-80, the first Aussie summer after reunification.

With the West Indies needing three to win off the final delivery, Brearley dispatched all ten fielders (apart from the bowler of course) to the boundary, including wicket keeper David Bairstow, father of Johnny. It’s a pretty fair assumption that this incident is also what gave rise to the fielding circle.


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And then of course, there is also my previous estimation that the wicket keeper probably handles the ball in play an equal number of times with all other ten members of the fielding side combined.

Certainly, India can’t be considered to have played the third Test with 12 players because as I have said a number of times, Saha was neither allowed to bowl, bat or act as captain. However, there is a very good argument to be had that India did play the second half of the third Test with approximately 11.3 players.

Finally, the post 2017 law on the subject obviously leaves huge potential for abuse, even with the stipulation that the injury sustained by the original keeper must be the result of an external blow.