SPECIAL REPORT

Welcome to the Wicketkeepers' Union

Wicketkeeping is a unique job – always demanding, often thrilling. This is the role laid out – from its mental and physical challenges to its frustrations and inspirations, the best in the business, batting and England’s golden era – by those who have spent their lives behind the stumps
By NICK FRIEND
There is something different about wicketkeeping – something uniquely captivating.

It breeds a rare mutual respect between all those who have found themselves in the line of fire. They understand it; it is their little secret. It is never just catching a ball.

To the outsider, there is a sense of cliché attached to the notion that individuals could be united simply through the shared experience of pulling on a pair of gloves. Within the circle, however, the feeling of community carries genuine meaning; there are few sporting roles that combine challenge and privilege so tightly.

Welcome to the wicketkeepers’ union.

“You’re the drummer in the band,” says Luke Sutton, formerly of Somerset, Lancashire and Derbyshire. “You feel that importance. Think of how often people look to the keeper to be that leader.”

“It’s a lot more than shouting stuff – it’s creating that theatre as a unit,” stresses Kent’s Ollie Robinson.

“It takes one to know one,” adds Chris Read, the former England and Nottinghamshire stalwart, of the shared bond that exists among everyone to have donned the gloves. “There’s only one of you in a team. Ninety per cent of the rest of your team don’t understand what you’re going through, so even though you’re on the opposition, it’s quite nice to have a little chat in the morning, even if it’s just a knowing look or glance.

“It’s nice to have someone who knows what’s going on, what you’re going through.”

“We joke about it all the time,” laughs Worcestershire’s Ben Cox. “Keepers are weirdos. We love a challenge, it’s a weird job to get into, the concentration element is really tough, the workloads you put through your body – you’re squatting 600 times a day. You have to love it.

“That’s why I think wicketkeepers get on so well: you have this appreciation that it’s tough. But you’re all in it together.
Ben Cox featured in his first England Lions squad over the winter – at the age of 28
“You can’t complete wicketkeeping. You can’t perfect it. You’re always trying to find information off the next guy – what works for you that can help me? It is a union. If you can help the other bloke out, then do it.

“It’s a unique category to find yourself in, it’s a unique job. I love it. For me – and I know I’m biased, it’s the best position to be in.

“We always get teased – ‘it’s easy with gloves on, mate.’ But I always think I’d love to put my teammates in some gloves and let them stand up to bowlers. They’d soon shit themselves. Honestly, it’s a role for unique people. There’s one in eleven people in a team, but the other 10 – I can guarantee it – wouldn’t want to do it.”

One of a kind. A breed unto themselves. There are few positions quite like theirs in any team sport: the eyes and ears of a captain, expected – without respite – to get through their work unnoticed and unfussed. And in the DRS age, an auxiliary umpire.

“I guess keepers, like myself, just love being in the action – and that’s inescapable really,” reflects Michael Bates, the former Hampshire man, whose retirement from playing and subsequent move into coaching we will come to later.

“You’re in the game all the time – there’s no boring side to it. On the flipside, to concentrate so ruthlessly for so long and with the season now being so compact, I think that’s the biggest hurdle to overcome – the mental impact it has on you, the level of concentration you need, the scrutiny you come under.

“But with that comes the chance to constantly be in the game, the opportunity to influence the game all the time, which is why I absolutely loved it.”

“I think the main thing that you pick up from all the keepers you watch is that everyone has their own technique or style,” explains Nottinghamshire’s Tom Moores, who has benefited from his father Peter and club physio James Pipe – both former keepers themselves.

“But somewhere along the line, they’ve had that love affair with catching and they’ve caught so many balls in training that have made them who they are.”

“People almost see you as being there not to make a mistake, which is a poor psychological opinion on a wicketkeeper, but that is what it is and it’s probably going to be around forever.”

JAMES FOSTER, EX-ESSEX & ENGLAND

Tom Moores receives treatment for a blow to the finger from James Pipe, Nottinghamshire’s physio and a former keeper himself at Worcestershire and Derbyshire
What follows is an in-depth dive into the wonderful world of wicketkeeping in the county game, featuring the voices of 15 glovemen – five of them England internationals, with 8,138 professional dismissals between them. Each is an open book, hugely impressive on their specialist subject; one common trait stands out – a glorious, fervent passion for their role.

There are subsections on the thrill of it all, the challenges that lie in wait, the paranormal impact of wobble – a hazard that has haunted many keepers on their first tour of the United Kingdom – and goalkeeping, an artform with similarities in its movement and psyche.

The punditry of wicketkeeping is also discussed – the idea that the job remains underappreciated and misunderstood; specialist coaches are a rarity. In among this, of course, there is the small matter of batsmanship. As cricket changes, so does the job description: England’s stocks have rarely been so jampacked.

And then, there are plenty of nuggets like these. “Trust your eyes,” says James Foster with the air of simplicity you might expect from such a wizard of the modern game.

“What I mean by that is to react to what you actually see. What you see: trust it. If you’re standing up to a seamer and you see the nip, then trust your eyes and try to get your hands to the line in which you think it might go. Do that rather than go: ‘Oh, it’s nipped’, because then you almost freeze.

“Trust what you see. It happens so quickly that you don’t get a lot of time to digest that information. Being able to relax is the most important thing if you want to move quickly.

“I always put it that when you’re keeping well, you feel like you’re controlling the ball rather than it controlling you and pushing you around. When you’re in that sweet spot, that’s a nice place to be, that’s for sure.”

Essex’s Adam Wheater chuckles. “It’s a strange one because you’re in the team by yourself. When you have a stinker, which can happen, as a batter you get out and as a bowler you get taken off. As a keeper, you’re just there and no one can really understand it.

“People think it’s just catching, but you’ve still got to stay there. Sometimes, it is like dying a slow death. For me, it’s just like batting in terms of being in form and out of form. Batting is a game of inches: one game, you’ll play and miss; another game, you’ll nick it. Same with keeping: one day, it’s just going in; another day, that catch to your right doesn’t.”
Ask any English wicketkeeper about the greatest challenges they face and, as a rule, the same two answers are recycled: wobble and concentration.

The latter is part and parcel of the job – there is neither a venue in the world nor a format of the game where it is not paramount.

Some will talk to one another, others – like Alex Mellor, the former Warwickshire wicketkeeper, will count each delivery. “If you’re going to be in the field for two days, if you can break it up into a few seconds here and there, then it doesn’t actually work out as all that long.” He laughs, but he is right. Managing the hours as they tick by is essential.

“Concentration is the key to everything – where your brain is, where your mind is,” stresses Jack Russell. He believes it took him two years of regular county cricket – and a winter playing in New Zealand – before he found a way of keeping his own focus.

One of life’s great eccentrics – even by wicketkeeping standards  he learnt to lose the tension that came with trying to make his way in the game; he began to feel less like his career was on the line.

Since his retirement in 2004, he has turned his hand to a different art entirely, becoming a professional painter. While other keepers would joke around with their slip cordons to pass the time, during his latter playing days Russell started to take in the scenery around him as his fascination with the easel increased.
“I used to look at the clouds and the light and I used to look for detail in grounds,” he explains. “Everyone does it differently, but the key thing for me was to come into each delivery with the intensity where all I was seeing was me against the ball.”

It is something that he broaches at length when coaching modern-day wicketkeepers. There is watching the ball. And then there is watching the ball.

“Sometimes they think they’re watching the ball and they’re actually not,” he says. “You need to be looking for the seam, for notches on the ball. That’s how intense the vision side of it has to be – that’s your intensity level.

“You can look in front of you and you’ve got a picture; it’s all about how much of a picture you blank out. A nuclear bomb could have gone off and I wouldn’t take a blind bit of notice because the only thing that interested me would be the ball. I would pick up which side the shine was on, what the seam’s doing, whether it’s spinning.

“Not being surprised by anything is key – if something surprises you, you’re going to be late on it. It’s not just watching the ball; it’s watching the ball with intensity.

“Sometimes, you go fractionally off the boil – it might only be 0.01 per cent but that was the key for me. You can talk about technique and ability and tiredness, but the intensity was the key. The critical thing is to be able to come back to that intensity, ball after ball after ball.

“The other part of that intensity is the relaxation – that’s a bit of a contradiction but you’ve got to have relaxation from the elbows down. Your hands have to be relaxed; that intensity and fired-up desire to get the ball mustn’t go down below your elbows. Your hands have to stay loose – almost like your gloves are going to fall off. It’s a mental skill.”

He remembers working with John Simpson, the Middlesex wicketkeeper, at the start of his T20 career. Russell found that the emphasis on Simpson to set an aggressive tempo for his fielders would take him out of his rhythm and prevent his hands from relaxing. “He would be pumped up, so he was snatching at the ball a bit and his arms weren’t soft.”
Michael Bates assists Jos Buttler with a wicketkeeping drill; since retiring from playing aged just 25, Bates has become one of few coaches with first-hand keeping experience
He points to a recent viral video featuring a trio of remarkable takes during the 1999 NatWest Trophy final against Somerset. One particular piece of work – a one-handed gather diving to his left to deal with a legside wide while standing up to the stumps, he describes as “without question the greatest take of my career”. It was possible, he emphasises, because of his concentration.

And, as Foster would say, because he trusted his eyes. “The advantage of doing something really well is that it gives you so much confidence and it makes you relax more,” the former Essex man explains.

The opposite is also true, however. And while forgetting about the occasional error is easier said than done, it is a necessity. He adds: “People say: ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. Concentrate on the next ball.’ That’s the standard line, but it is probably the hardest thing to do as a wicketkeeper. As I got older, I learnt to care less about the mistakes; I still cared about them because I didn’t want to make them but I learnt to care less about them.

“It’s a tough thing to do. Going into coaching, whenever I see fielders or a bowler berating a wicketkeeper, I will often just have a little word. I think it means more for a wicketkeeper to make mistakes. It’s not going to do anything of any advantage to the wicketkeeper if you’re sticking your arms up in the air and you’re having a go at them.

For Moores, it represents one of the greatest differences between wicketkeeping and all else. “If you make a mistake with the bat,” he says, “you are letting the team down and you feel gutted, but you’ve mainly failed yourself. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the end of the game or the end of the world.

“If you drop a catch, you feel like you’re letting the bowler and the team down – you want the ground to swallow you up sometimes. That’s why you do the work, I think – so you don’t feel guilty if you do put a chance down.”

The 23-year-old reckons he takes close to 200 catches in an average 40-minute session. Once upon a time, he would devote more of his training to batting, working on the assumption that his natural keeping tendencies would look after themselves. Now, that philosophy has reversed itself. It is practice that has helped him to get over the rare blunders.

“You can sit there and go: ‘Well, I’ve worked on my right-hand thousands of times. Unfortunately, it’s just not stuck.’

“By doing that volume of work, you have that trust and confidence in yourself to let yourself play and enjoy it. It’s bound to happen; we see it all the time – keepers miss chances. If that happens, if you’ve done that work, you can dust yourself off and move on from it.”

It is all part of minimising the mental strain that comes with a unique position. There is no downtime, no chance to take a ball off.

In today’s game, where the wicketkeeper’s batting has arguably become as important as their glovework, even once a shift in the field has ended there is rarely a moment’s calm.

Ben Foakes is one such case. He has spoken openly in recent times about feeling as though he needed a break from the game.

“I just felt mentally drained,” he admits. “I wasn’t performing anywhere near as well as I could. It was almost one of those where I just needed to get to the stage where I could have some time off, get fresh and sort my head out. Definitely being a two-skill player adds quite a lot of mental strain.”

The 27-year-old endured a rare poor summer with the bat in 2019; batsmen throughout the country struggled for runs, but Foakes regularly found himself at the crease early, often coming in at No.5 and captaining Surrey in the absence of Rory Burns.

“You get in [after wicketkeeping] and you basically just want to go to sleep and then you hear that roar outside and you have to get your whites on straight away and you’re out there,” he recalls. “Not being able to switch off at all is obviously a tricky thing.”

It is a skill that comes with experience, and Foakes has more than most. The early days are difficult, stepping into four-day cricket for the first time amid the prospect of long periods on flat, batsman-friendly surfaces. It is a conundrum – both mentally and physically.

“Almost always, mid-season, young keepers have a bit of a wicketkeeping crisis,” says Sutton. “They just have two or three games where they don’t look at their best. And that is because you are doing it every day – day in, day out. You’re in demand all the time, and there’s rhythm to that. There’s a rhythm to being able to turn up every day, get your body right, get your mind right, which comes with a bit of experience.

“You have to go through the crisis points as a young keeper to find a way through them. Often those points come because you had a bit of a bang on the hand. And guess what, you need to keep for 100 overs the next day.

“There’s no escape. You can’t at 11.15am go: ‘Guys, I don’t fancy it.’ You’re in for the day. You get tired, you have a bad back, but you have to stay in there. As keepers get experience, they get really good at being able to conserve their energy around that kind of rhythm – it’s not just how they are in mid-April, it’s how they are in July. The best guys who play for a long time are able to develop that kind of rhythm.”

Robinson chuckles as he looks back to one of his early outings for Kent. It was just his sixth first-class game and only his second behind the stumps. After he had made 143 in the first innings of the match in a knock that lasted 228 balls and 304 minutes, Warwickshire were forced to follow on, batting for 213.1 overs across their consecutive innings. “I remember the third day,” he laughs. “I couldn’t actually walk. My hips and groin had just totally given up on me.” In a repeat of those circumstances, he would be fine, he insists, now that he knows what he’s training for.

 “A nuclear bomb could have gone off and I wouldn’t take a blind bit of notice because the only thing that interested me would be the ball. It’s not just watching the ball; it’s watching the ball with intensity.”

JACK RUSSELL, EX-GLOUCESTERSHIRE & ENGLAND

For Read, who made his England debut as a fresh-faced 20-year-old, the challenge of coming in as a young wicketkeeper was different. He looked around the dressing room at the faces he was lining up alongside: Nasser Hussain, Mark Butcher, Graham Thorpe, Andy Caddick, Alec Stewart. “I was playing with guys who I’d had on my bedroom wall five years earlier,” he reflects.

That is a shock to the system in itself – slipping into a role that stereotypically is viewed as that of the tone-setter, while comfortably the youngest and least experienced player in the side.

“It was slightly surreal and it didn’t come naturally to me to be a big voice in that first series,” he remembers. “But I also feel that there was an expectation back then that the keeper was the gobby one. I think that has changed quite dramatically with the understanding of different personalities and how people operate.”

Read felt that his greatest use could come through his tactical nous rather than by shouting loudest. He reckons it is why he ultimately became a captain.

Yet, that aspect of the game comes more easily to some than others. Bates, blessed with fabulous hands, had “a natural tunnel vision – I was able to block out any distractions that were going on in my periphery and really hone in on the ball”. It helped his glovework but initially hindered his ability to assist Dominic Cork, his first Hampshire skipper. That was a skill he had to learn.

For Sam Billings, a eureka moment came during an Indian Premier League stint with Chennai Super Kings, which gave him the chance to watch MS Dhoni – the man known as Captain Cool – at close quarters.

The experience did not disappoint. Billings lights up as he recounts his days spent observing India’s iconic wicketkeeper-captain. Performing the roles simultaneously is an entirely different challenge. One of its great benefits, he suggests, is having the best view to understand the nature of the pitch, the angles, the minutiae of his field, the thinking of the batsman. The difficulty, though, comes in the distance between himself and his bowler, especially when under the cosh.

“Dhoni, in my mind, is still underrated in this country in all facets of what he does,” Billings submits. “He’s absolutely incredible. Talking to him about how he stays calm reminded me of Federer when he was explaining it.

“He said as a child he was horrendous; he’d smash bats, smash everything up. And now, he’s developed and put routines in place to be able to stay calm under pressure. He said it was a process rather than being born with it – he does it better than anyone else.”

As for his glovework?

“You can slow down every keeper in this country and when we catch the ball, every single person comes back – the best guys an inch or two. With Dhoni, there’s no movement backwards whatsoever – it’s just one flowing movement. It’s incredible to watch. I don’t really know how he does it.

“It sums up mindset over skillset. He believes so much in his skillset that it’s all about his mind. I did not see him pick his gloves up outside of a game situation ever. He didn’t train his keeping whatsoever.

“It’s all about his mind and watching that ball and just doing the very simple things better than anyone else.”
James Foster is widely acknowledged as having had some of the finest hands of any wicketkeeper to have played the game
And then, there is wobble. Every single wicketkeeper involved in this piece namechecked the phenomenon – often unprompted – as the single greatest challenge associated with the job. It has been the undoing in England of several fine international cricketers – not least Dhoni.

So much so that shortly before The Cricketer spoke to Cox, the Worcestershire man had received a message from a keeper out in New Zealand asking for tips on dealing with it.

“From experience, it’s by far the toughest part of wicketkeeping,” he stresses. “Honestly, it is so much easier keeping in Australia – bouncier, flatter wickets; you’re stood so far back. But when you come to England and have to deal with wobble, that’s proper wicketkeeping.”

If the consequences of wobble are straightforward, then its premise is more confusing. In effect, it is the random movement of the ball – up or down, left or right – between the point of passing the bat and reaching the keeper.

“The problem is that it’s not in a trackable trajectory,” says Michael Richardson, the former Durham wicketkeeper, who is taking on the complex task of explaining the unexplainable. On occasion, it made Graham Onions “absolutely putrid” to keep to in his pomp, so perfect was his seam position.

“Because it’s happening so close to you, it feels like there’s no indication of which way it’s going to go. It could hover up at you, it could dip, it could move left or right.”

It is why relaxation and concentration are so significant – to allow the keeper to react accordingly. “If a ball’s wobbling and you tense,” Foakes counters, “you can’t go with the ball with your arms and your hands will be quite hard.” He trains himself against it by using a fielding bowling machine, whose balls create a similar sensation in the air.

Cox is a fascinating voice on wicketkeeping; he does a huge amount of gym work, living by the basic calculation that a day of County Championship cricket with 96 overs to be bowled equates to 576 balls and, therefore, 576 squats. Add in the morning warmup and that figure becomes roughly 650.

He adds: “My outlook is very simple and everything stems back to one place: posture. Everything in wicketkeeping comes back to that, which is the power position or the squat.

“Typically, as soon as a wicketkeeper has the slightest inkling that the ball has stopped rotating in the air and is about to wobble, the first thing you do is panic. At that point, you’re already in crisis because you’ve now tensed up. What happens as a result of that is that you come out of posture so you’re not in a position to be able to let your hands do the hard work.

“If you’re in good posture, it will get you out of any tricky situation.”

“We love a challenge; it’s a weird job to get into; you’re squatting 600 times a day. You have to love it. That’s why I think wicketkeepers get on so well: you have this appreciation that it’s tough. But you’re all in it together. You can’t complete wicketkeeping. You can’t perfect it.”

BEN COX, WORCERSTERSHIRE

 Ben Foakes receives his maiden Test cap from Bruce French – the former Nottinghamshire keeper has been fundamental in the wealth of options at England’s disposal
“I think if you look at it collectively, I’d argue that this is probably the strongest wicketkeeping generation,” says Billings, one of 11 men with experience of keeping wicket to have been included in England or England Lions squads in the last 12 months.

Jonny Bairstow kept through last summer’s Ashes series; Jos Buttler – and Ollie Pope, out of necessity – took the reins for the two-Test contest in New Zealand; Billings donned the gloves during five T20I matches on that tour; Foakes was man of the series in Sri Lanka in 2018 and was on the return trip that was curtailed by the coronavirus outbreak in March.

Four more were part of England Lions’ landmark, unbeaten winter in Australia. James Bracey kept in five out of six games, with Robinson taking over for the final match. Moores’ injury opened the door for Cox to join the group as a replacement, while Tom Banton – part of England’s winter white-ball legs – and Ben Duckett, who opened the batting in a T20I against Pakistan last year, have both performed the role at county level.

The depth of competition evokes some considerable candour. Do you stand a chance? Is there really a way past the guys at the top? What can you do to reach that level?

“I thought I was miles away from the setup and I was kind of resigned to the fact that I probably wouldn’t be ever involved in one,” Cox reflects of his winter Lions experieince – a maiden call-up on his 28th birthday, 10 years after his first-class debut. “It has come at the perfect time in my career. I’m desperate to be back there.”

He pinpoints a quote from former England coach Trevor Bayliss, who in 2016 said: “I think the best wicketkeeper should be the wicketkeeper.” It was a lightbulb moment for Cox: “That went around the circuit and put all the keepers on alert,” he recalls. “It was like: ‘Oh, we actually do stand a chance.’”

Foakes’ subsequent selection two years later against Sri Lanka – where the emphasis was placed on glovework against spin – reaffirmed the point. It came six winters after he had first been part of an England Lions squad as a 19-year-old, before he had even played a List A game.

“In terms of competition, it’s really strong,” Foakes acknowledges with an unfailing respect and admiration for his fellow keepers. “It is tricky to get everyone in at the same time. But nowadays with the batting and keeping, there’s such a dilemma with that – where you fit in, what you push harder on. It’s a complex time for a keeper-batter.”

He admits that he struggled in the aftermath of losing his spot following England’s tour of the West Indies at the start of 2019. He began with a hundred on debut in Galle and added a half-century in Pallekele. In five games, he averages 41.50 with the bat at Test level.

“It’s obviously very difficult,” he adds. “For me, I’d done six years on the Lions working all summer and all winter trying to get to the eventual goal of playing for England. And then, I guess once you get there, you don’t know what’s going to happen.

“For me, for it to go really well and get the man of the series in the first series, I guess you do expect more of a run. Two games later, for it to be gone – in terms of the mental side of it – that’s something that’s quite tricky to deal with.”

His efforts last time out in Sri Lanka, however, played a part in his recall for the subsequent series in March. He is well aware that a batting average last summer of 24.58 hardly constituted a battering down of the door, but he knows also that his struggles stemmed from his own mental fatigue.

“Statistically, you don’t pick someone for an England tour on the back of what I did last year, so from that point of view I was surprised,” he reflects.

“But at the same time, I knew it wasn’t that I’d had a bad year because I wasn’t playing well. I knew that if I came back after a break, I felt like I could do a hell of a lot better.”

It is worth noting too, of course, that from 2015 through to 2018 in first-class cricket, Foakes averaged: 51.41, 44, 49.47 and 36.70. Understandably, it has been a source of frustration in the past that he has so often been labelled purely as a wicketkeeper.

“I guess on last year, you’d say I’m a keeper. But the years before, I’ve had the numbers of a batsman. I think if you can average mid-40s for a few years, I feel it is unfair to be put as a keeper that bats a little bit.”

Perception, you see, is key among all this. It is a word Foakes returns to at several junctures.

“For example,” he starts, “with Sri Lanka it’s perceived that you need your best gloveman and you sacrifice the runs, so regardless of how you’ve performed, you kind of get a go. Whereas, in other countries, it’s perceived that the keeper isn’t as important so the runs outweigh it.”

He points to Foster’s call-up for the 2009 World T20 and Peter Nevill’s period behind the stumps for Australia. He is humbled by the suggestion of many observers that he is the standout pure wicketkeeper on the circuit, but it is praise that comes with its own drawbacks, linked once again to perception. By the time Foster and Read retired, they had recorded 50 first-class centuries between them at a combined average above 37; and yet, it was always their keeping that came in for commendation.

“I think it can almost weigh against you,” Foakes explains. “Some guys who are seen as really good batters that can keep as well, even if they develop their keeping immensely and are actually really good keepers, the second you drop one, you’re seen as: ‘Ah, he’s not a great keeper, but he can bat though.’

“It’s almost like, if a good keeper drops one, it’s like: ‘You rarely see that,’ whereas if a guy that’s seen as a batter that keeps drops one, he may drop less – you never know, but it’s seen as: ‘Ah, he’s dropped another one.’ It’s such a fine thing of how you’re perceived.

“When everyone kept on saying: ‘Good keeper, can’t do it with the bat’, that was one thing that annoyed me just purely because statistically there’s no evidence of that. That was one thing that frustrated me.”

“I’d still argue the point that a specialist keeper can still have a really significant part to play in any team and can genuinely impact a game with his gloves alone. That’s what I felt I did. Looking back, yes, my batting wasn’t to the level of my keeping, but my keeping was exceptional.”

MICHAEL BATES, EX-HAMPSHIRE

It is a fascinating dilemma.

“If I want to play Test cricket, which I do, it’s about my runs,” stresses Billings. “I back my keeping to be as good as anyone’s on the circuit. I know other people give certain guys a lot of plaudits – Ben Foakes is probably the outstanding keeper out on his own, but there is probably a group of us who are not that far behind him as very solid glovemen.

“At the end of the day, how I’m going play Test cricket – this is what I’ve been told and this is all the communication – is that actually it’s all about the runs you can get because everyone is a very good keeper.”

Billings, who bought himself a pair of orange Puma gloves as a 13-year-old in homage to Geraint Jones, wasn’t actually going to begin the red-ball season behind the stumps for Kent, with Robinson continuing from where he left off last year. Having missed large swathes of the 2019 campaign through injury, Billings returned at the back end as captain without the gloves and scored three centuries in four games, including two against Yorkshire in a single match – the first player in County Championship history to achieve the feat at Headingley.

“You are an allrounder and you have to be an allrounder,” he adds.

Russell was brought up on a simple premise. “I was told: ‘You don’t drop Viv Richards.’” That remains a fine working motto, of course, but it is no longer enough on its own. “You can’t talk purely about keeping anymore,” he says.

Bracey is only four years into his professional career, another of the new breed; he only made his List A bow last year – he now averages 60.87 in the format. A languid left-hander, he grew up admiring Kumar Sangakkara, one of few to ever master the challenge of occupying a top-order batting spot and retaining consistency with the gloves. That said, even his Test batting average leapt from 40.48 to 66.78 when he was picked solely to bat.

Bracey kept just twice in last year’s County Championship, before becoming the Lions’ main keeper in Australia – a decision that, by his own admission, came initially as a pleasant surprise. He maintains for the moment that he is batsman first, keeper second, but acknowledges that “the two are coming closer together”. Still just 23 years of age and a cricketer of refreshing maturity, what does he make of this era?

“It is daunting,” he chuckles. “If you’d asked me that question before I went out to Australia, I’d probably have said that I don’t even put myself in that category. I’d probably put myself in that group with Sibley, Crawley, Burns, Denly – I’d have been trying to strive towards that more.
Ben Foakes has worked with some of English cricket’s finest glovemen, beginning as James Foster’s understudy, before moving to Surrey to work with Alec Stewart and learning off Bruce French with England
“Now that I’ve been away and got a taste for it and where I’m at keeping-wise, I feel like I can keep working at it and I can almost see how things go and see how I perform in both. It’s an interesting one – it’s quite a saturated group, but if you can score runs, that is clearly what they’re looking at.”

A common denominator here is Bruce French, the former Nottinghamshire wicketkeeper who has had such an influence on so many England glovemen. Several swear by him. “He’s a guru,” Robinson gushes. “Literally the most amazing person, a brilliant coach.” Foakes beams: “He never lets you rest on your laurels and think you’re doing all right.” His impact on Matt Prior, who developed into a terrific keeper, has been well documented.

“He is part of my family now,” Prior told The Cricketer last year. “He became so pivotal to my own game that if England cricket weren’t going to take him then I would have paid myself to have him come around the world and travel with me to make sure I was doing it right.”

Sutton agrees. The introduction of French and the player that Prior became as a consequence – “a total gamechanger in how he batted and how he approached the situation” – were central to what has happened since.

“That’s why I think the standard of wicketkeeper-batsmen in England is so high,” he explains. “You think of the quality of keeping from Matt Prior and how people have improved – whether it be Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and now Ben Foakes. They’ve all improved with the gloves – there haven’t been guys out there dropping catches left, right and centre.”

Perhaps the most brutally honest summation of the depth at England’s disposal comes from Wheater, wicketkeeper at the champion county and at Chelmsford, where pitches in recent years have spun sharply.

“If you look at Ben Foakes, if he was playing in any other country, he’d be playing for his country,” he says.

He remembers a conversation during his spell at Hampshire with his then-captain, Jimmy Adams.

“He asked me after my first year what my aspirations were. ‘Do you want to play for England?’ And I remember being very realistic in the fact that I knew who was ahead of me – Buttler, Bairstow, Foakes, Billings.

“And then if you look at Ben Cox’s wicketkeeping in one-day cricket, Alex Davies has been with the Lions, now Robinson. You have to be realistic and you have to dominate county cricket and be one of the best keepers, while scoring a hatful of runs to then say that I want to play for England.

Sam Billings kept wicket for England and was Eoin Morgan’s vice-captain in their T20I series win over New Zealand in November
“Everyone wants to play for England, but whether it’s a realistic chance is another question. You can stand there until the cows come home saying you want to play for England, but it doesn’t change where you’re at. I’ve been a little inconsistent to push my case for that.

“Performing for Essex is my No.1 priority and you have to understand that just because you perform for Essex, it doesn’t mean you’ll get selected for England. At what stage is that pecking order going to change? Unless you have an absolute blinder, how are you going to get in front of those guys? Keepers are queuing up, aren’t they? I’d like to have played for England, but I don’t think I’ve pressed my case hard enough over the years.”

The situation has been similar to a degree in the women’s game. Until her international retirement, Sarah Taylor was untouchable – according to Adam Gilchrist, the best wicketkeeper – male or female – in the world. In a social media age, the speed of her hands had become a viral obsession. Alongside her but playing only as a batsman was Amy Jones, who has now stepped into the breach.

Bates has worked with both since taking up a role with England Women.

Few have a better understanding than him of the contrasting qualities of the hugely talented pair – Taylor’s technical imperfections were balanced by a devilish hand-speed and inner predator, while Jones possesses the former and continues to develop the latter.

“Sarah was incredibly natural and gifted at what she did,” Bates reflects. “She wasn’t technically the best and she would agree with me; she had a couple of technical things that we would constantly reinforce and work on to try and get her into slightly better positions and get her slightly more consistent.
“But her ability and instinct as a keeper to sniff out an opportunity before it happened and to get herself into a position to make the most of that opportunity before anyone knew what was happening was incredible.

“She was one of the most natural keepers I’ve seen. On the flipside of things, Amy Jones, I’d say, is technically superior to Sarah but just needs to keep working on that keeper’s killer instinct. Technically, she’s the best in the world within the women’s game.

“Merge the two together and you’ve got an incredible performer.”

Bates’ expertise makes him something of an anomaly: a coach with wicketkeeping experience. Foster, too, has ventured into the coaching world, while Nic Pothas is assistant coach at Middlesex and Paul Farbrace is now Warwickshire’s sport director. But they are few and far between.

“You’ll always have a bowling coach and a batting coach at every county – rarely do you have a wicketkeeping coach,” Cox points out. “We do get forgotten about. One hundred per cent.”

For a long time, he had Steve Rhodes as his head coach at Worcestershire, to whom he feels indebted for his career with the gloves and whose knowledge he soaked up.

“If something happened to me on the day, nine times out of ten it will have happened to him as well. I was just constantly taking in information day after day, so now if I shell a ball, I know what I’ve done wrong.”

“England have taken it to the level where it probably should be in that they’ve got a guy (French) who they fly around,” Richardson adds. “At county level, where this is your job and your profession, my practice still used to be pairing off with Phil Mustard or whoever.

“That’s so basic really, compared to how every single batter will go to analyse their technique until the cows come home. With keeping, it’s like: ‘Just catch it.’ But you should be taking your stance in the same way every single ball, you should line yourself up. I don’t think it’s done to the same detail as batting.”
Chris Read speaks with Jonny Bairstow; as a teenager, he learnt off Alan Knott, who used video analysis with a VCR and TV. “He was a bit ahead of his time,” Read recalls
Those who watched Michael Bates keep wicket struggle to believe that he is no longer in the professional game. He has written a book about the position since his retirement in 2015 – at the age of just 25.

On the back cover of Keeping Up sits a quote from Buttler. “Throughout the England age-groups,” it reads, “Batesy was the benchmark.”

He was a specialist wicketkeeper in a world where, increasingly, a desire for specialism was being dethroned by a need for the multi-dimensional.

“I was an era too late potentially, but I’ve never really thought like that,” Bates explains. Rather, he stands by his craft and its potential to win games on its own.

“I guess I’d still argue the point – and I know that many people do – that a specialist keeper can still have a really significant part to play in any team and can genuinely impact a game with his gloves alone. That’s what I felt I did. Looking back, yes, my batting wasn’t to the level of my keeping, but my keeping was exceptional.

Gloucestershire’s James Bracey kept in five out of six games for England Lions over the winter; he is also a fine talent with the bat
“I think given the opportunity and had my career gone on a little bit further, I’m pretty confident that my batting would eventually have got itself to a position where I was able to do a job.

“It is a bit gutting; I’d essentially argue that I didn’t fulfil my potential.”

It stems perhaps from an underappreciation of the art. The line often bandied around is that a keeper has done his job if he goes through the day unnoticed. Yet, even that notion ignores the game-changing possibilities afforded by high-class glovework.

While batsmen and bowlers have their averages and strike-rates totted up, wicketkeeping remains an outlying unquantifiable in a sport where so much else is measured by hard numbers.

Foakes counts his mistakes – he reckons he missed “one, borderline two” chances for Surrey in 2019; Cox works out his own percentages. Anything that touches his glove is a drop. Last year, by his calculations, he took 92 per cent of his chances – the highest he has ever reached.

“I do think there are ways of tracking,” he says. “I don’t know why stats aren’t taken with wicketkeepers – drop percentage, byes saved. It’s a margins game, but wicketkeepers are so generic – it’s like: ‘Foakes, he’s good. So and so, he’s all right.’”

“People almost see you as being there not to make a mistake, which is a poor psychological opinion on a wicketkeeper,” adds Foster, “but that is what it is and it’s probably going to be around forever.”
It is a belief that resonates with Bates, whose own career would almost certainly have benefited from a subtler, more formalised means of analysing keeping.

“I think what keepers will always struggle with is that there’s no way of quantifying their contribution,” he explains. “I think until that changes – if it changes – it will always be quite difficult to prove. It comes down to the makeup and the balance of your team; if you’ve got a keeper batting at No.7 or No.8, can you afford that luxury or do you go for a specialist batter and get him to keep and effectively make room for another bowler?

“There are a lot of things that come into a decision like that, but being a purist keeper I’d always argue that what a genuinely quality keeper can bring to a team is invaluable – not just what they can do or how they perform but the energy they can bring to a fielding unit. All that stuff combined can genuinely make a massive difference to a team.”

Moores adds: “With the age of franchise cricket and more people trying out keeping than have done in the past, you realise how difficult it can be. It’s not something you can just pick up and do. Ninety per cent of the time, the straightforward take isn’t the problem.

“It’s the quick reaction and diving opportunity or the stumping that goes down the legside, which can make the real difference. They’re the splitters of keepers who keep and have made it their craft.”

Russell only ever played two T20 matches for Gloucestershire in 2003, but he shares a similar viewpoint – that in a format of such tight margins, the benefit of a high-class operator behind the stumps is vital.

With fewer deliveries going through to the keeper, concentration levels have to be better trained than ever before. “Games are lost on one ball in T20. I do believe that a wicketkeeper can win you a T20, I honestly do.”
Jack Russell wore only one hat and two pairs of gloves through his career. He has requested that his hands be amputated upon his death and the bones placed in a case
Pre-match routines, too, have altered accordingly. “You have to try to think of every option,” Bracey has learnt. Shying – or rolling ten-pin bowling style – at the stumps to replicate batsmen stealing late byes and practising high catches under lights have become a new norm.

Cox points to one particular piece of work on T20 Finals Day last year. Standing up to the stumps as Ben Duckett looked to ramp the ball over fine leg, he leapt in the style of a handball goalkeeper, spreading himself à la Peter Schmeichel. The ball struck him and ballooned up in the air – had he been able to take the rebound catch, it would have been an all-time clip for the showreels. As it was, the stop prevented a certain boundary – Worcestershire won by a single run. Point proven.

“My teammates say I’m mad,” he laughs. “I genuinely would rather get hit in the ribs and take a broken rib than let someone get a four to win the game. He got it, I jumped, it hit me in the head, it saved four runs and we won by one. In my opinion, that’s like a little win for me. I know it won’t get seen, but I’ll remember that I’ve saved four there.

“With two or three overs to go, Dan Christian inside-edged one and I took a one-handed save. That would have gone for four, so it’s eight back. I know it won’t get written down but I know in my mind that I’ve done my job.”

“When everyone kept on saying: ‘Good keeper, can’t do it with the bat’, that was one thing that annoyed me just purely because statistically there’s no evidence of that. That was one thing that frustrated me”

BEN FOAKES, SURREY & ENGLAND

It brings us to Foster, the doyen of the last decade. He offers a self-effacing embarrassment when it is put to him that his peers hold him in such high regard.

“That’s a lovely thing to hear,” he chuckles after a moment’s pause. “It’s actually very humbling to hear that. It’s not something that you set out to do – you just want to be as good as you possibly can.

“I know that I didn’t find cricket particularly easy, but I worked very hard and I loved practising. It was never a chore to practise.

“When I started playing first-class cricket, it was incredibly important that you had to be a good batsman. That was part and parcel of the game.

“I think often people mention Gilchrist and Sangakkara probably because they were statistically some of the greats of the game with their batting alone. But their wicketkeeping was off the charts as well. They were phenomenal.

“I think sometimes people give those guys a huge discredit actually because they were phenomenal at both, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do – two skillsets which you have to be the best at or incredibly good at. It’s not an easy thing to do – to be able to manage your time, manage your practice, sometimes one discipline won’t be going well, sometimes neither will be going well.”

The question, then, to those who lavish Foster with acclaim is a simple one. What was it about this son of Leytonstone – a winner of 23 England caps who still remembers watching grainy masterclass footage of Alan Knott as a child – that stood him out in the county game?

For many years, Sutton was a contemporary, and it is his tribute that feels most powerful.

“What you tend to find with wicketkeepers is that other players all revert to the opinion of wicketkeepers,” he says. “It’s a bit like goalkeepers. You’d be on a team bus and people would ask who you thought was the best keeper. Other players tend to notice whether someone does something brilliant or rubbish, but there’s not a lot of opinion in the middle.

“James Foster, for pure wicketkeeping class, was just another level. He kept wicket how I wanted to keep wicket – that’s the best way I can describe it.

“I remember watching and wishing I could do what he did. It was his rhythm, his technique, the energy that he at times conserved. There was a rhythm to the way that he kept wicket – he made things that were incredibly difficult look incredibly easy. And he did it for a long period of time. I honestly can’t remember a single day of playing against him where I thought he’d had a bit of a shocker.”

“Especially up to the stumps, as good as I’ve ever seen,” Billings adds. “Every single time he would be keeping wicket on TV, I’d idolise him.”

Foster isn’t one for regrets. His career wasn’t dissimilar to that of Read, another who was picked young by England – before Gilchrist had made his Australia debut, never quite enjoyed a breakthrough innings at international level, became a legend of his county as captain and ended up averaging close to 40 with the bat, all while commanding enormous respect on the circuit for his glovework.
Michael Bates’ glovework was tremendously regarded, but he fell out of the first-class game in 2015
“I always felt under pressure to score runs,” Read reminisces of his own England experience. “In the 15 Tests I played, each time I came in it felt as though I had a couple of Tests to score some runs. It was far less about wicketkeeping; maybe I put too much pressure on myself. I’d be the first to admit that making my debut a year after I’d made my first-class debut was premature. I wasn’t ready for the demands of international cricket – certainly not from a batting point of view.

“But then when I came back into the side, my batting prowess at county level had grown. I’m obviously disappointed by the fact that I didn’t kick on at international level with the bat; it certainly wasn’t a feeling that I didn’t have the tools to be able to do that, as I think I proved in my time post-England.”

With retrospect, it feels hard to believe that neither played more international cricket than they did.

Foster didn’t feature in a single Test or ODI beyond 2002, when he was still only 22. No regrets, though. “My career was my career, and I bloody enjoyed it,” he stresses.

In the cases of Wheater and Foakes, they had the best seat in the house, but also the most difficult. Both men grew up effectively as his understudy, victims of the nature of the position and of Foster’s startling consistency. Wheater left for Hampshire in search of more opportunities before later returning, while Foakes ultimately moved on to Surrey – a decision influenced in no small part by the presence there of Alec Stewart.

Their relationship has been key. “I find from a prep point of view, if Stewie’s not there you really notice it,” he explains. “Trying to scrap around to find someone to throw you some balls – it’s not the same, because people don’t know exactly what they’re trying to do.”

Wheater compares Foster to Graham Gooch, another great man of Essex, whose weight of runs and reputation saw him lionised.

“When you spoke to Gooch about batting and you spoke to Foz about wicketkeeping, it was just almost so simple for them,” he explains. “Sometimes, they didn’t have an answer because they just did it.
“For me it was more watching Foz go about things that was slightly different to other keepers. For example, on the morning of a red-ball game he’d be stood up to a side-arm in the net; before a T20 he’d be stood up to the bowlers and the side-arm in the net as well when the batsmen are swinging and doing whatever they want in front of him, which takes – for me – an unbelievable amount of bravery before a game.

“Sometimes when you’re stood up to these guys, there’s an element of risk. For him, it was almost like there wasn’t. I always spoke to Foz about it but almost the best way of learning from him was watching him.”

Ironically, when he left for the Ageas Bowl in 2013, he found himself competing for the gloves with Bates, often playing solely as a specialist batsman as a result. On his return to Essex at the end of the 2016 campaign, Foster continued for a further two years. It was only during the 2018 season that Wheater became a bona fide first-choice keeper – a difficult transition in itself, even without the additional pressure of stepping into the boots of the master.

“I found it as if I felt that I had to keep to a certain standard in order to justify that I was replacing Foz, which was tough,” he recalls.

It is testament to him, therefore, that he has become such a key member of a title-winning team. He singles out the importance of Barry Hyam, Essex’s academy director and a former keeper himself, who has acted at times as a second pair of eyes with his own knowledge.
No one in the country has taken more red-ball wickets in the last three years than Simon Harmer; as every spinner can attest, they need their wicketkeeper.

The pair combined for three stumpings and six catches last season – Wheater missed four games with an injured thumb. There is a thrill involved in keeping to the South African off-spinner – he is different to anyone he has kept to before.

“What I found at the start with Harmy is that he created balls that players would play and miss or nick which I wasn’t used to at the start. I know it’s a cliché that the keeper should expect every ball to come to him, but you don’t really.

“I found that he was rushing me because I didn’t realise that he could make batsmen play and miss off that line or length. I had to get used to him beating the bat on balls where I didn’t think it could happen. It’s made me look silly at times, but it’s a learning curve.”

Sutton has a similar tale; he reminisces of his days spent working with Muttiah Muralitharan at Lancashire – the toughest bowler he kept to, but also the most brilliant. It is a reminder of the privilege of the position. Few have enjoyed a better view of one of the game’s all-time greats.

“It just required so much concentration to watch his wrist position, to watch where his hand was,” he remembers. “You could be there and the sun could be out and you could be picking him ten out of ten. It was like you knew the answer to the magic trick and the batsman didn’t. You just felt like a genius.

“And then all of a sudden, for some reason or another, you’d lose it. You’d have to go through this little period where you’d have to judge it off line because he was so good. He was exhausting, especially on a dry Old Trafford wicket. You’d feel it at the end of the day. I ended up picking him about eight or nine out of 10.

“You couldn’t breeze through keeping to Murali – no chance. You could be on the offside and the ball has spun a yard down the legside. And vice versa. He was an incredible bowler. For pure deception, I don’t think there’s every been anyone better.”

Cox had a parallel experience with Saeed Ajmal at the height of the Pakistani spinner’s success. His doosra, for a time, was one of the sport’s most lethal deliveries – and the front-row seat belonged to Cox. Box office.

“It was so much fun,” he gushes. When there are lulls in play now even five years on, the Worcestershire slip cordon still discuss the buzz he created.

“As soon as I saw it as a top-spinner, I knew it was a doosra. And then he used to be really smart with it; he’d show them a toppie that wouldn’t turn and then he’d throw in his toppie with higher revs, which was the doosra. Just the skill of showing the batsman this so he thinks it’s the doosra, but it’s not – I loved it.”

It made him a better wicketkeeper, he believes. Bates, the same – he had Imran Tahir and Shahid Afridi down at Hampshire.

“James Foster, for pure wicketkeeping class, was just another level. He kept wicket how I wanted to keep wicket – that’s the best way I can describe it”

LUKE SUTTON, EX-SOMERSET, DERBYSHIRE & LANCASHIRE

Picture the scene inside Newcastle United’s indoor training centre: Steve Harmison at the top of his run-up; Alan Shearer marking his guard; Geraint Jones standing up to the stumps; Shay Given, Steve Harper and goalkeeping coach Simon Smith readying themselves in the field.

The former England bowler – then on his ascent to becoming the world’s top-ranked seamer – was only operating at half-pace, but it was enough to open Smith’s eyes.

“He’s bowled this ball and Alan’s never seen it, but Geraint has just caught it so easily,” Smith recalls. “I thought to myself: ‘This is just us messing around but those hands are unbelievably quick.’

“It’s something that’s stuck with me, so when I do my reaction practices for goalkeeping, I want them to have as quick hands as Jonesy.”

“I love watching goalkeepers,” Robinson laughs. “I’d much rather watch the top hundred Premier League saves than top hundred Premier League goals. One hundred per cent.”


Different sports but two similar arts, goalkeeping and wicketkeeping are hardly short on crossovers. It was nearly two decades ago now that Paul Farbrace first contacted Smith about linking up. Then working at the FA, these days Smith is head of goalkeeping at Newcastle.

At varying stages since, he has worked with Jones, Foster and Bairstow, as well as running sessions for the whole England team, with an emphasis on the speed of their footwork – “if you can’t move your feet, you’re lost” – and diving technique. For a time, he lectured on the ECB’s Level Four coaching courses, speaking to the likes of Tom Moody and Mark Ramprakash.

“I had an argument once with Peter Moores,” he laughs, “who said that my diving technique was nothing to do wicketkeeping.

“We filmed him doing his and me doing mine. We played one over the other and from the start to nearly the end, it was exactly the same. It was only the end bit, where he did a roll to keep the ball off the floor that was different. For him, it was great because he then knew what I was trying to do. I love that challenge of trying to prove that you can help people’s performance.”

His work, too, has crossed into the mental side of the role, where the overlap between the two is even greater. Goalkeeping especially, with football’s global reach and intense scrutiny, can be a difficult, solitary existence when the going gets tough.

Carlisle goalkeeper Adam Collin was coached by Smith in his teenage years at Newcastle and had to choose between football and cricket as a youngster; he still plays regularly at club level through the summer – albeit as a seamer, while having amassed more than 500 appearances as a professional footballer.

“Because you train on your own and you’ve got your ten outfield boys in front of you,” he admits, “it can be very lonely if things aren’t going quite right and you’re under pressure.

“You have to be so mentally strong because everybody wants to point a finger at you as soon as you make a mistake. You can’t let that affect you, so when you go out to play, you can’t have that fear of failure or it will get on top of you.

“It’s a very pressurised position – probably the most pressurised on the pitch. When I make a mistake or drop a clanger, people are very quick to point the finger.
Simon Smith, head of goalkeeping at Newcastle United, has worked with several England wicketkeepers on their footwork and diving techniques

“From my cricket experience, I think wicketkeeping is exactly the same. If first slip drops a catch, it gets brushed under the carpet. As soon as the wicketkeeper starts dropping a few catches, it’s the same as the goalkeeper – people start looking at them and pointing the finger and thinking: ‘Maybe we should change this.’ That’s what comes with wearing a pair of gloves.


“There is a big lack of understanding about the position unless you’ve played it or been trained in it as a coach.”


The punditry of goalkeeping has taken this further; few commentators or analysts have first-hand experience of a specialist role. Errors have been created and critiqued where there were no errors.


“I don’t think people understand the pace or the power that people play at – both in football and cricket at the top level,” Smith adds. “If you put them in that position, they’d see where we’re coming from. People are human; I’ve not met anyone who’s not made a mistake yet.”


The same is true of wicketkeeping.


“A classic comment is: ‘Relax.’ By definition, if someone is saying that to you, they’re obviously looking at you and thinking you’re a bit nervous or tense,” Richardson laughs. “If you’re then aware that they know that you’re tense, I just don’t see how that’s ever going to help you.


“I get more frustrated when guys are unaware of what’s impossible. Say, for example – and this is where commentators come into it, if someone gets a bottom edge and it hits Buttler midway on his pad or it flicks his glove. You’ll get someone going: ‘Oh, another chance goes begging.’


“Or if the batter’s come down the wicket and he misses it but it hits his pad and the keeper juggles it and the guy gets back in. That isn’t a missed stumping at all in my eyes. It’s physically impossible to have predicted that it would hit his pad.”

“I found that Simon Harmer was rushing me because I didn’t realise that he could make batsmen play and miss off that line or length. I had to get used to him beating the bat on balls where I didn’t think it could happen. It’s made me look silly at times, but it’s a learning curve”

ADAM WHEATER - ESSEX

Quite simply, thick skin is a given – or, at least, a characteristic worth having. The blind assumption is that nothing could possibly pop out of those webbed mitts.


“If someone does a good piece of fielding, everyone goes and gives them a high-five,” chuckles Durham’s Ned Eckersley, “but we do a good take and everyone goes: ‘Yeah, that’s your job mate.’”


Mellor recalls: “I’ve had it where my dad will message me and say: ‘There’s a few byes – what’s happened?’ It could be on a day where the bowlers literally cannot control it and are spraying everywhere and you’d need Go Go Gadget arms to get it.


“I’ve had it where I’ve had a bit of banter with the umpires – I’ll be like: ‘Come on, help me out.’ And they just apologise and start laughing. You have to laugh or otherwise it will drive you insane. But it’s what we do and we love doing it.”


Collin points back to Russell’s viral video from the beginning of May. It fascinates him, not only as a cricket fan himself, but also as a goalkeeper honing in on the speed of it all – from the delivery to Russell’s initial movements, all the way through to the ultimate scooping up of the ball as it sets its ark down towards fine leg.


“Just the way that he moves his feet – it’s so much like goalkeeping,” he enthuses. “If he doesn’t move his feet, he doesn’t stop the ball.


“I know that Russell ball wasn’t as wide as the bottom corner of the goal, but the way he moves – there’s someone stood right in front of him, his hand-eye coordination, speed, reactions. All of that is goalkeeping.”


There is a rare flamboyance to wicketkeeping up to the stumps, a flair only enhanced by a sharp piece of legside work.


“The one-handed dives and legside stumpings – that is the artwork of wicketkeeping,” Cox says.


“You’ve made something out of nothing and you’ve burgled a wicket, which has changed the game,” Moores reflects with glee.


“I actually prefer standing up because you don’t have time to think – it’s all about reactions,” Billings explains. “In terms of mindset versus skillset, it’s actually just the skillset taking over.


“You feel in the game, you feel a buzz. Especially standing up to seamers – it’s great fun.”


And that’s it. The nail on the head. Wicketkeeping: a challenge, a privilege, a way of life, a labour of love. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Read adds. A glove affair, you might say.

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