It will surprise the legions of cricket fans who flock daily to this blog, well all 3 of them, to discover that at one point in his career FB was considered a wicket keeper batsman. This was a remarkable designation because he could barely bat and certainly couldn't keep wicket. But many years ago when he enrolled at an institution of higher, if not advanced, learning in the Thames Valley, the college cricket team put out a general notice inviting volunteers. Keen as mustard FB turned up. He had successfully spent the winter as goalkeeper in the college football team, so when the skipper asked his new recruits if anyone was a keeper, FB put his hand up. The gauntlets were his to keep for the season. He made a good fist of it - the college team's bowlers were all seam up so FB could stand at a safe distance. But when he turned out for a town side with an array of spinners, his bluff was called. He never mastered that standing up milarkey. In these pre-helmeted days he had a nagging concern about his front teeth. So he turned to perfecting his world famous in swinger which, on occasion, is still with him today. The world of cricket is thus enriched.
In the lower leagues that are FB's stamping ground, wicket keeping is a different art to that practised at the elite levels. Often the keeper is the least mobile member of the fielding side, whether through bulk or age or both. Technique is based on Newtonian physics - being an immovable object renders the ball's force resistible. The emphasis is on stopping and it is the role of the slip fielder then to pick the stopped ball up to begin its return to the bowler. Since the slip is usually the second oldest or bulkiest fielder this is frequently done under protest. Stumpings are rare events, but when they happen they happen in balletic slow motion that would be envied by Sam Peckinpah.
But younger players can be allowed behind the stumps too and can bring something distinctive. In one office team that FB graced for many years, a raw recruit, a youth of dishevelled appearance with shoulder length hair, took up wicket keeping with enthusiasm. For reasons that were not very clear to anyone, least of all himself, he eschewed the wicket keepers' gloves in favour of a pair of batting gloves. Catches behind were rare events but the mysteriously attired figure behind the stumps unsettled many a batsman to the team's advantage.
Neither Stewart, Flower nor Sangakarra played all their Tests as wicket keepers. As an aside, it is interesting in these figures to note the relative rarity of stumpings. A far cry from the great pre war Australian keeper Bert Oldfield who had 52 stumpings in his 130 Test victims.
Taking everything into account it is easy to conclude that Adam Gilchrist is the greatest. It is his influence that has made the wicket keeper batsmen such an essential attribute. His rapid scoring in the middle order of the great Australian sides of the 1990s and 2000s was central to their dominance.
Knott also has the distinction of once scoring 7 runs from a single delivery in Test cricket. This came against West Indies at Headingley in 1976. Knott took a quick single to extra-cover off Holder. Bernard Julien fielded and overthrew the wicket-keeper. Knott and Tony Grieg ran two overthrows before Andy Roberts at square-leg, retrieved the ball and threw it past the stumps at the bowler's end and over the long-off boundary for four more runs. That would have been worth seeing.
Dhoni and Sangakarra are fine players both. FB looks forward to their tussle on Saturday. But they have some way to go to reach the status of Alan Knott.