Recent Comments

August 2008
« Jul   Sep »

Lawrence Booth: England must keep faith behind stumps

August 5th, 2008 by Lawrence Booth in England, One-day cricket, South Africa in England and tagged , , , , , ,

Forgive me for not writing about Kevin Pietersen, but I refuse to let the fact that England have appointed a new captain deflect from the conveniently quiet news that they are changing wicket-keeper. Again. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised: a new gloveman has become as much a part of the English summer as binge-drinking and thunderstorms. But Matt Prior for Tim Ambrose ahead of the NatWest Series is a decision which, paradoxically, smacks of indecision. And the indecision has lasted the best part of five years.

Let me explain. I think Prior is probably a better pick for the one-dayers: unlike Ambrose, who had an X-rated time in the one-day series against New Zealand in June, he can bat in the top six, and across 50 overs his glovework is less likely to be exposed than it is in a Test match. But the hole England have been digging themselves since the retirement of Alec Stewart in 2003 has just got a little bit deeper.

Just as England wanted one captain for both forms of the game, so they should be looking at one keeper. Why? Because, after the captain, the keeper is the man who most needs to build up a relationship with his bowlers. At the classy end of the scale have been partnerships such as Alan Knott and Derek Underwood, Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee, Ian Healy and Shane Warne. These alliances needed years of exposure. The congested nature of the international calendar at least provides keepers and bowlers to get to know each others’ games inside out. But by continually treating the gloves like an accessory in a game of pass the parcel, England’s selectors are doing their side a disservice.

My grouse is not so much with Prior himself, although research shows he has cost the England Test team far more runs in missed chances and leaked byes than he has actually scored with the bat. (Hey, doesn’t everyone deserve a second crack?) It is with the inconsistency of the selectors.

Since 2001, England have tried a variety of sub-Stewart figures: James Foster, Chris Read, Geraint Jones, Paul Nixon, Prior, Phil Mustard and Ambrose. That’s before we mention Marcus Trescothick, Anthony McGrath and Vikram Solanki. Jones alone was given a decent run, only to be dropped just as his keeping was getting better (his batting, alas, was heading in the other direction). The result of this chopping and changing is that the England keeper, more than any other nationality, does his job in a perpetual spotlight. No wonder they struggle to perform consistently.

If Prior performs well against South Africa in the six games ahead (one Twenty20 international, five ODIs), what are the odds England will take him to India and West Indies as their No1 keeper? Pretty good, I would have thought. At which point he will drop a catch, probably off Ryan Sidebottom, and the whole debate will start all over again.

England don’t have much time to get their choice right. Australia are here soon, and they seize on indecision like no one else. Perhaps if we just let one bloke get on with the job – and assuming they don’t have a complete shocker – we might not be having this debate in the first place.

Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Guardian. His third book, Cricket, Lovely Cricket? An Addict’s Guide to the World’s Most Exasperating Game is published on August 21 by Yellow Jersey

Posted in England, One-day cricket, South Africa in England |

6 Responses to “Lawrence Booth: England must keep faith behind stumps”

  1.   SimonC says:

    This “runs cost in missed chances” stat is getting quite annoying, all the more so because of its sudden ubiquity. It’s a completely useless figure to track, because the number of runs scored after a missed chance has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the skill of the wicketkeeper.

    If I miss a difficult early chance off Lara, who then goes on to make a triple century, am I really a worse wicketkeeper than one who drops three sitters off a batsman who then obligingly treads on his own stumps? I’d argue not, yet by your measure I’m orders of magnitude poorer, and that one drop will stain my figures for years while Mr Butterfingers gets off scot free. A slightly fairer approach might be to take the batsman’s expected runs at the time of the missed chance (i.e. his average, or some variation thereon), but even that doesn’t really make much sense - again, the batsman’s skill doesn’t relate at all to the difficulty of the chance.

    Moreover, this figure dominates (and thus randomises) the “net runs” stat. Missed chances are relatively rare, and yet their cost can be very large, so the random element of this stat is huge. You’ve quoted the “net runs per match” stat to two decimal places, and yet the real accuracy of the figure could easily be plus or minus 20 or more runs, enough to render it pretty much useless.

    In my opinion this all backs up your broader point, with which I agree - we’re too quick to chop and change. But that problem is based on drawing too-precise conclusions on too little data, which is what your other article effectively consists of.

  2.   Daniel Brigham says:

    Simon, surely the more frequently a wicketkeeper drops catches the more likely it is that he’ll drop a batsman who goes on to make a substantial score? Prior drops a lot of chances …

  3.   SimonC says:

    The drop frequency is certainly a factor, but it’s almost completely obscured by the random nature of how many runs ensue. The proportion of chances a wicketkeeper drops would be a perfectly reasonable stat; the difficulty is in assessing the cost of each drop in order to get that nice “net w/k runs per match” comparison. I’d argue that treating all missed chances as equal and giving them a fixed cost would be the fairest way to go, but even then the relative rarity of missed chances means you’re going to get a lot of noise.

    I’m not arguing Prior is great, incidentally, nor saying that he doesn’t drop a lot of chances; I’m just pointing out that his figures in that linked table are completely dominated by two drops off Jayawardene, the cost of which had nothing to do with his skill, and everything to do with Jayawardene’s.

  4.   Gary Naylor says:

    Prior got a lot wrong first time round, but has worked hard at his game and not whinged. I respect that.

    Ambrose played well with Colly, but scored 22 (I think). If Prior had scored a ton, the Oval Test might be for the series.

    Crudely put, if you have Flintoff, he comes with Prior, especially in India when batting time will be important as India will score quickly and put England under pressure.

  5.   Benj Moorehead says:

    I have to agree with Simon about the futility of the “runs cost in missed chances” figure. Stats play a significant role in this game, but shouldn’t in this case, where many variables will influence how many runs a missed chance will cost. Better a bit of numberless common sense when judging a keeper’s ability. Prior is a less able keeper than Ambrose (or Read, Foster, Scott etc) not because of any net figure, but because it’s damn bloody obvious when you watch!

  6.   woodyway says:

    G. Jones at no. 5[if he wants it].
    Collapse with hysterics if it pleases you but deep down you know it makes sense.

Leave a Reply

Site by Anson Robson Marketing © 2010 The Wisden Cricketer All Rights Reserved