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The Keepers

The Keepers

Australia’s Wicketkeepers and the Heart of Australian Cricket. An interview with author, Malcolm Knox.

With the Summer of Cricket and calls of HOWZAT fast approaching, an excellent new book from award-winning author Malcolm Knox looks at the view from behind the stumps. The Keepers: Australia’s Wicketkeepers and the Heart of Australian Cricket is a big informative well presented and lovingly curated literary piece covering all eras of the gentleman’s game. Talking with Malcolm, we cover such topical issues as the controversial pink ball, sledging, should Steve Smith bat at number 3, dwindling test crowds, and the Bollywood career of Brett Lee.

Shane A. Bassett: Important question first, your opinion of Steve Smith possibly batting at number 3 in the upcoming test series?

MK: People forget it’s the captain’s choice, selectors pick the team but could back him into a corner by giving their suggestions. I do think Steve has the flexibility to choose where he wants to bat. Personally number 4 is not a bad position considering the inexperience line up the baggy greens will have. There’s not much difference. It may depend on if Dave Warner is fit to play, they will rely on then both actually.

SAB: Would a soccer goalie make a good wicket keeper?

MK: The way goalies boss everyone else around, it’s the same kind of personality. Without a doubt, the hand-eye coordination is a similar gift. But the wicket keeper’s job is constant through ball after ball sometimes day after day. Not quite the same for a goalie in a 90 minute game. Keepers have to put up with shooting body pain after practically every bowl as well.

SAB: Is it a requirement for a wicket keeper to be a good sledger?

MK: In the past there have been some that have not sledged at all. Two breeds of keepers exist: ultra competitive sledger in the ear of the batsman the whole time or quiet ones of gentlemanly behavior. In fact new to the team, Peter Neville has a reputation like that as a low-key man. It’s unlikely he will ever go before the code of conduct committee for excessive appealing or sledging. When you think of Australian keepers, you think Ian Healy as competitor, or Adam Gilchrist not so much a sledger but overly vocal. Rod Marsh similar, not a direct sledger although maintained verbal presence.

SAB: Why wicket keepers as the subject of your book – is it your most admired field position?

MK: I did a book of captains a while ago, there is 45 of them to date. Much of the focus remains on the skipper or the champion batsman and bowlers. To me, the people who have defined each era are the wicket keepers, the backbone. There have been 33 of them so far and not all of them have held their job through various test series’. I have a sentimental feeling for keepers who get overlooked, they often only get noticed after a mistake.

SAB: How long did it take to complete The Keepers – Players at the Heart of Cricket?

MK: Between 12-18 months not writing it full time. I hope it will look good under the Christmas tree. With the retirement of Brad Haddin, it is an opportune time for people to think about those men of the people I’ve articulated in their stories. Haddin expressed to me the main requirement to being a good keeper is being a good bloke. That certainly was true while getting to interview and know them all.

SAB: Should more keepers throw the arm over for a bowl to mix it up?

MK: A keeper in the post war era fancied himself as a leg spinner all the way through his career. He never bowled in a test match but did at club level. The only two keepers who have bowled in a test match are Rod Marsh who bowled in Pakistan to a Greg Chappell kept wicket during a game which was slowly dying. The other more recently was Matthew Wade who in a Hobart test against Sri Lanka in a match where Australia were pressing for victory. Wade kept nagging Michael Clarke yelling out ‘give me a bowl skipper, you have seen me in the nets I’m good’! While at the same time in Clarke’s other ear the late Phillip Hughes was insisting, ‘I want to keep, I am a better keeper than Wade, let’s do it’. As Michael Clarke puts it, he made two people very happy that day by allowing it to go ahead. Wade was a respectable bowler, Hughes a little ropey behind the stumps although full of enthusiasm.

SAB: Will we see the return of Matthew Wade now Brad Haddin has retired from test duties?

MK: You might, he’s in the box seat with the spot in the one-day team. If  he plunders runs during those matches and Peter Neville struggles for runs in the test matches, selectors could easily bring back Wade to bat at number 6 for scoring opportunities.

SAB: Covering so many keepers in the book, is there a standout for you?

MK: It changes in eras. Impossible to compare. Being a bit of a nerd I have a fondness for J. Blackham. He had the job longer than anyone else to date, 18 years. He kept wicket for more balls than anybody since adding up all the first class matches. He was the only one to be nominated captain. He went to England 8 times for 8 tours, simply amazing statistics, an iron man. The best wicket keeper in a time nobody really thought Australians could be better than the English at anything until this guy made them take the team seriously.

SAB: Your opinion of the current demise of the West Indies?

MK: It’s sad, the thing you would most like to see this summer is for the Calypso Kings to perform beyond expectations in their three important test matches. You shudder to think if they are total routs and the Windies are as poor as they have been recently, it will not be just bad for the team, it’s bad for cricket.

SAB: Maybe a good reason to bring down ticket prices in order to attract bigger crowds.

MK: They are too expensive, Cricket Australia (CA) should be more responsive to market our great game. It’s likely they can’t just bring tickets down on a blanket basis cutting admission price, they could innovate by offering cheaper rates coming in after the lunch break which is the type of thing they have tried with domestic matches. It’s not going to be a good look if the MCG or SCG less than half full.

SAB: Do you think the pink ball warrants controversy and test day/night matches will be a success?

MK: It’s only one session under lights although the pink ball will be used throughout, it’s something that will come to fruition during the day/night Sheffield Shield matches using the ball will reveal all. You just hope there are no problems with it during the third, a possible deciding test between Australia and New Zealand in Adelaide. The prospect of catches being dropped or players being hit in the face not seeing the ball or other incidents is a worry although well worth doing. I commend CA for trying the day/night test format out to hopefully be spectator friendly that will add atmosphere to that game and crowd numbers. Until it happens the pink ball, that inaugural pink ball, until everyone discovers it works everybody is going to be pretty nervous.

SAB: Loud music between overs is often hammered out at cricket matches now, your thoughts?

MK: Years ago, I took my son to a test match and a Twenty20 international, he was right in that target market for the music, fireworks, dancers and pizazz. Loved the entire test match all day for seven hours wanted more at end of play, but after an hour of the T20 he kept remarking it was too loud then admitted he was bored and wanted to leave.

SAB: Have you had the privilege of experiencing any cinematic acting from paceman Brett Lee?

MK: Fortunately no comment, I have not seen any of his movie performances as yet. I like Brett, I wish him well with his Bollywood pursuits, it’s not quite on top my agenda to watch him act.

The Keepers: Australia’s Wicketkeepers and the Heart of Australian Cricket is available now through Penguin Australia. RRP $45 Hardcover.

Shane A. Bassett

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