Sports

Deep Point: ‘Whatever we’re spending, quadruple it’

It’s time to demystify wicketkeeping in Australia.

The pursuit is closely guarded – a bit like the front row in a rugby scrum, where only a few know how it all works. Opinions differ wildly on who can keep and who can’t.

With a new keeper about to make his Test debut it’s as good a time as any to reflect on how we develop our keepers and if we’re doing enough in that area.

For me, it’s an area of expertise where we need more investment in coaching, at both a junior and senior level. If I’m identifying talent now, I want to know which batters can keep – not just so that if something goes wrong, but because more and more they are proving to be the best problem solvers across all forms of cricket.

England have got an absolute shed full of quality keepers. From Phil Salt to Sam Billings to John Simpson, James Bracey, Ben Foakes, Jonny Bairstow, Ollie Pope and Jos Buttler. The list goes on and on.

When I was in England last year with the Australian white ball team I watched their former ‘keeping coach Bruce French work with four different keepers, even though only one of them was keeping in the match. I was fascinated by the 45min routine he put all through and impressed by the quality of all four.

I’m not sure we invest in that side of the game as much – or appreciate the benefits of investing in this side of the game.

Buttler and Bairstow are the two best white ball batsmen in England at the moment, and both exceptional keepers.

How can we provide more support to keepers? And learn different training methods to both improve their skill sets and identify more keepers? Steve Rixon was the leading keeping coach over the last 20 years (and probably still is). He is an absolute master at his art and, upon reflection, his talents in this area were under-utilised nationwide.

When we look globally there is something unique and special about modern wicketkeepers and what they bring with the bat that we should explore further. If I look at the skill sets of Buttler, Bairstow, Rishbah Pant, AB De Villiers and MS Dhoni I’m thinking it should be almost mandatory that all batsmen in youth development squads are being taught as wicketkeepers as well.

Jos Buttler

Jos Buttler is one of England’s most devastating weapons. (Photo by Michael Steele-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

Sometimes it’s just about priorities and resources. And as professional coaches we’re often short on numbers to help out at practice. We end up we fast tracking the fielding and keeping elements because it’s probably not financially viable to have someone who just focuses on keeping. So the focus becomes on the 22 yards and fielding coaches have to fight for every minute they can. A battle I fought for 10 years.

I think whatever time we’re spending, we need to quadruple it to get the same sort of impact as what keeping has had on the English game.

Is it tough criticism? Maybe. But that’s one aspect for Australian cricket where we need more depth, because it’s such a pivotal position in terms of output and you need that healthy competition. We need more depth and more players with that capability because it also may uncover a player with more unique batting skills and more players with the ability to problem solve. (for example Matthew Wade in the T20 semi final against Pakistan and Alex Carey in Manchester ODI last October).

In Australia, the wider audience tend form their ideas from ex-player interpretations and debates.
I think Matthew Wade (keeping) and Peter Nevill (batting) were under far too much scrutiny for the mistakes they made in comparison to someone like Brad Haddin, who probably made just as many mistakes but seemed to have been under less scrutiny than the other two. (That said, Haddin trained his skills as hard as anyone and worked closely with Rixon).

We also saw that with Paine’s batting. Paine was getting criticism for his first class batting average even though his Test batting contribution was very good in his second coming whilst problem solving as a captain.

Adam Gilchrist’s batting was legendary but also the way he kept wicket was extraordinary. Because his batting was so dominant we tend to underestimate just how good a gloveman Gilchrist was.

It was hard for those guys who followed, such as Haddin, Paine, Wade and Nevill because they were competing with Gilchrist on both sides of the ball.

If runs were needed it was ‘oh you’re not as good as Gilchrist’ and if you had to be tidy over the stumps on a steaming hot day in Chennai then you weren’t as good as Gilchrist or Healy.

Gilchrist also captained the team with great effect with the famous Test series win in India. Then we look at others – MS Dhoni to me was the natural successor to Gilchrist. In white ball cricket he was excellent but he also took his team to No.1 in Tests – achieving Gilchrist type results while captaining his country.

Adam Gilchrist celebrates his century in the 2007 Cricket World Cup final

(Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

Maybe Rod Marsh should’ve been made Test captain after GS Chappell?

We get weighed down about how things have been done, or we think how they should be done, and not how they can be improved. But our memories also get blurred. The greats made mistakes.

If Carey gets the nod to replace Paine, he has the ability to take that position to a new level through the experiences that have got him there and if given time will thrive.

He was the wicketkeeper for South Australia at the under 17 tournament when I was coaching NSW, and the best wicketkeeper I saw at youth level.

And he had that natural athleticism that came from being a talented multi-sport player.

At the end of the tournament I enquired about him and someone said, ‘Oh, this is his last tournament and he’s going into AFL.

He’s been touted for a long time as someone of exceptional talent and he is an absolutely amazing human being. He’s someone who team-mates and coaches gravitate to. He’s composed and maybe like many keepers he’s a wonderful problem solver and given the support of the public he may just end up being one of our best.

But the shadow of Gilchrist still looms large as it did for him following Healy and for Healysd following Marsh.


Thanks again for your questions on last week’s column. Please leave more in the comments section and I’ll answer some next week.

What do you think is the key to making the transition from First Class to Test cricket? We’ve seen numerous guys with good FC records struggle in Tests, whilst England have counterintuitively picked guys with modest FC records (Crawley, Hameed) at Test level. Are the guys who succeed at FC level best placed to succeed in Test cricket, or is there something else that you look for that means average county/shield cricketers can make the cut at Test level? – Patrick

In my experience the best batters score heavily from juniors all the way through to first class cricket. If you can succeed in FC you can succeed in Test cricket but the mental side is the biggest adjustment. Pressure is increased in every aspect and how players cope with magnified failure goes a long way to determine how their Test careers will go. Players like Michael Clarke and Steve Waugh just found a way to succeed and that was what set them apart from others who were deemed to be more talented. But that also underestimates just how talented those two both were as the ability to absorb pressure is a skill that they had and one that is difficult to train.

Thanks for the insights about techniques- it sounds like you work on weight transfer and impact more than footwork. Is footwork overrated in batting? Is the idea of getting to the pitch of the ball outmoded, with weight transfer more important? And how does head position relate? – Graeme Tutt

Weight transfer is far more valuable than footwork. The whole point of footwork is to provide access to the ball and many times excessive foot movement hinders the natural path of the bat. Plus anything that moves is difficult to repeat. Players out of form tend to have excessive footwork looking to get going rather than keeping their head steady, watch the ball and transfer weight through a stable base late.

You’ve focused extensively in your articles on batsmen and I’ve really enjoyed your insights, but what about your work with bowlers? I note for example, you’ve worked with Adam Zampa? What specifically have you looked at with him? – Paul

With Adam its about repeating his action, this starts with his run up. We try and regulate the speed of his run up which best allows him to get his right side through the crease without over striding. This means he gets more over spin or revs on the ball. When he’s comfortable with his run up he’s more consistent and the natural skill with his wrist takes over allowing subtle changes to be less obvious to the batters and brings the stumps into play. If its not feeling right we look at aspects of his approach that maybe affecting his action.

I’m also interested in your thoughts about which spinners should go on the Asia tours next year? I look at how successful guys like Ashwin & Axar Patel have been in India, ie bowlers who don’t turn the ball a lot but enough to beat the bat? If so, what place might there be for Mitch Swepson, for example, who would likely turn the ball too much? – Paul

Trent: I think in India it’s the bowlers (including the quicks) who target the stumps who have the most success as they are then capable of troubling both edges of the bat. A big spinner of the ball needs to bowl more deliveries that will hit the stumps then they would normally in Australian conditions. Swepson’s wrongun would become more valuable in India but both leg spinner and wrong Un would need to be delivered to hit the stumps.



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