It's a keeper
Let's do wicket-keeping stats better
De Kock 3000 and 200
Quinton de Kock scored his 3 000th Test run as a keeper during the 1st Test between West Indies and South Africa at Gros Islet. Which is good for De Kock and the TV graphics department who duly slapped up the table with De Kock the 2nd South African to reach this many wicket-keeper’s runs after Mark Boucher. For me it was a reminder that I have become a bit uncomfortable with wicket-keeping stats. It was de Kock’s 52nd Test. How many of these were as wicket-keeper? In two Tests he was not the designated keeper, and a further two (v West Indies at Centurion in 2014 and v Zimbabwe at Port Elizabeth in 2017) he was designated keeper but was injured and AB de Villiers kept for the whole match both times. Has he been keeper for 50 Tests (as per convention) or 48 (which reality suggests)? There were similar questions when De Kock took his 200th dismissal against England at Johannesburg in January 2020 and became the fastest keeper to reach that milestone beating Adam Gilchrist’s 47 Tests. But did he do it in 45 Tests (as designated keeper) or 43 (which he actually kept in). Who is the keeper for a match? Why do we ‘designate’ one? Wicket-keeping dismissals are recorded quite accurately in scorecards these days, but historically it was not always clear whether a catch was taken by a keeper or not. How many matches do we reflect ‘as keeper’ and how many runs do we allocate ‘as keeper’? It is murkier than we would like it to be.
Historically, I have kept wicket-keeping stats using the traditional ‘designated keeper’ protocol. This is decided at the beginning of the match based on who we assume is going to be the keeper for each team. Only one player gets the dagger or the ‘+’ sign in the scorecard and he/she is the team’s keeper for the match whether they keep wicket or not. I have become convinced that this is unsatisfactory. We like things to be simple and clean and the traditional methodology does this: Player X is the keeper of record and all keeping and batting stats are allocated accordingly irrespective of who actually keeps wicket. The real world tends to be a bit messier. We need to become less mess averse and reflect reality better. ‘Designated keeper’ and ‘batting as keeper’ seem rather nebulous concepts to me. One of my lockdown projects has been to try and capture cases of non-designated keepers taking the gloves. It will be impossible to find all such cases for major cricket as swapping gloves is simply not recorded very often in scorecards or even match reports. We have a better idea at international level as those games get more attention. All told I currently have 94 instances recorded in Test cricket. I am sure there are other cases I am not aware of and there may well be some from the dim and distant past that we will never know. That shouldn’t stop us from incorporating what we do know into record keeping.
About five minutes before tea on the fourth day of the Test between England and Pakistan at Edgbaston in 2016 I found myself wondering whether Jonny Bairstow would score the five runs that he needed to break the record for most Test runs by an England wicket-keeper in a calendar year before the break. Standing behind me, waiting to take my chair for her tea-time interview with Test Match Special, was Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. There I was fretting about a relatively trivial cricket stat (perhaps not so trivial for Jonny Bairstow) based on a nebulous concept. If that is not an existential crisis, I am not sure what is. Tea was duly called and I shuffled out of my seat, shook her hand, mumbled something ordinary like “keep up the good work”, and waddled off to get my scone and cuppa (milk, one sugar).
Most purveyors of cricket records list Viv Richards on 122 in the ‘Most Test catches as a fielder’ category. If you were a sufficiently intense buff to know that one of them was while keeping wicket, I would be wanting you on my cricket trivia quiz team. Have a look at this from the 1984 Test at Melbourne:
If you fast-forward to 21:51 you will see Jeff Dujon heading off the field and Richards taking the gloves, and at 22:29 you can see him catching Allan Border. On the other hand, you may want to see highlights of Viv’s 208 in the 1st innings, in which case don’t fast-forward. Viv’s 208 won’t be seen in ‘Highest Test score by a wicket-keeper’ lists. It might reasonably be argued that as Richards only kept wicket between drinks and tea on the 3rd day it would be a bit silly to have him on such a list. Compare this, however, to the 159 made by Mushfiqur Rahim for Bangladesh v New Zealand at Wellington in 2017. Mushfiqur has the old dagger next to his name as he would have been expected to keep wicket during the match. But he retired hurt while batting and, although he returned later, he did not take the gloves at all in the match. This innings will be counted for ‘Highest scores by a wicket-keeper’ stats purposes. That seems sillier to me than excluding Richards’ 208.
Les Ames was one of the great keeper-batsmen of all-time. In his 47 Tests between 1929 and 1939 he averaged 40 with the bat. This was in an era when keepers who averaged 15 were thought to be quite useful batsmen. He is also the only keeper to make 100 first-class centuries and holds the world record for first-class stumpings with 418 (not a typo). In Australia’s 2nd innings in the Ashes Test at The Oval in 1934 there were 37 byes, which is still the most conceded in a Test innings. If you take a brief look at the scorecard, you will see the designated keeper for England was Les Ames. So, the uninitiated (human or microchip) are likely to pin the blame for these byes onto Ames. However, Ames was injured and did not keep in the innings. Frank Woolley is the only fielder with over 1 000 first-class catches, and therefore presumably the possessor of a ‘safe pair of hands’, kept wicket in that innings. He turned out to not have that safe a pair of gloves and was the man who conceded all those byes. The better scorecards of that match have a footnote saying that Woolley kept wicket in the 2nd innings.
We need to do better on keeper stats. Normal wicket-keeping career stats have columns for Matches, Catches, Stumpings and Dismissals (i.e. catches plus stumpings) and that’s it. There may be a footnote indicating catches taken in the field by those players listed. I would propose that those tables evolve to something more like this one of a selection of modern players whose numbers are murkier due to sometimes keeping wicket and sometimes not:
Where ‘M’ is Matches played, ‘DK’ is matches as designated keeper, ‘MK’ is matches actually kept in, ‘IK’ is innings kept in and ‘CtF’ is catches as a fielder.
There is a reasonable case to drop the ‘Designated keeper’ column as well. For the record, the keepers at the very top of the list of most dismissals in Test cricket (Boucher, Gilchrist etc) would not change as they were designated keepers and kept in all the matches they played. No doubt all of this will seem quite quaint when I am in my dotage and watching the broadcast of the T10 World Cup via hologram and the much more sophisticated record keepers of the future inform me that so-and-so now has the best percentage of clean one-handed takes from left-arm spinners while diving to their left down the leg-side.
And now for a look at what the Cricket Fact Randomizer has gurgled out today:
Jackie McGlew, who captained South African in 14 Tests and at one stage held the record for the slowest Test match century, is the only man to have taken a first-class hat-trick but never taken more than two wickets in an innings in first-class cricket. He scored 12 170 runs 190 first-class matches but also took 35 wickets with his part-time leg-spin. His career best bowling figures were 2-4 which he took for Natal v Transvaal at Durban in 1964, the match in which he took the hat-trick. He took the last Transvaal wicket to fall in the 1st innings and then took wickets with each of his first two balls in the 2nd innings.
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