Johannesburg - Wicket-keepers of yesteryear would let you know that they were the forgotten men of the team. Fast bowlers take the breath away, spinners have their trickery and batsmen get plaudits no matter what. But ‘keepers – ‘pah, just catch the ball bro’.
That changed around the time of Geoff Dujon was standing back to the West Indies quicks, and it most certainly did when Adam Gilchrist wore the gloves for the all-conquering Australian team of mid-90s to early 2000s.
Suddenly everyone needed a ‘keeper who could not just catch the ball, but also smash it when it was their side’s turn to bat. It’s taken a while, but the rest of the world has caught up and suddenly, at this year’s T20 World Cup a handful of teams go into the tournament with their wicket-keeper/ batsmen as primary weapons.
It’s not a stretch to state that as Quinton de Kock, Mohammed Rizwan, Rishabh Pant, and Jos Buttler go, so go their respective teams; South Africa, Pakistan, India and England.
England and India are among the tournament’s favourites and in Buttler and Pant have a couple of genuine ‘thrill seekers,’ with bat in hand. Buttler has stated his fondness for AB de Villiers, and has sought to model his batting on that of South Africa’s ‘Mr 360’.
"De Villiers was always my idol growing up, the guy I loved watching with the bat. He is someone who has been a role model for me for a long period of time; someone who changed batting,” Buttler said.
“That’s the role I want to play in English cricket. I want to be that guy who can go out like I did and play those kinds of innings and try to do that consistently.” Buttler’s overall T20 strike-rate is a touch under 140, and this year he’s made four half-centuries in eight matches, suggesting he is carrying some good form with him into the tournament. Pant hasn’t played as many internationals – just five this year – but he’s so heavily involved at the Delhi Capitals in the IPL, that it doesn’t matter. The 24-year-old lefthander is an instinctive player, who bats with a lot of flair. It may appear that he doesn’t care nor play the situation in the game, but that’s a fallacy.
He truly does back himself, and while an overall international strikerate of 123, suggests a player who reigns it in when in the blue of his country, it’s perhaps better to consider his IPL strike-rate, which stands at 150.11 over the course of 77 matches in the most lucrative and pressure packed T20 competition outside of the World Cup. Rizwan comes into the tournament as arguably the hottest player in the sport.
He has been a nemesis for the Proteas this year. He passed 50 eight times in 14 T20 innings in 2021, turning one of those into a hundred. And while he’s scoring a boatload of runs in the shortest format, as an opener, he’s also doing so at a prodigious strike-rate of 140.11 Along with the magnificent Babar Azam he provides Pakistan with a devastating ‘1-2’ combination that, along with their always dangerous bowlers, makes them strong contenders this year. De Kock is the wicket most of South Africa’s opponents will target. Amongst South Africa’s batters, De Kock’s the one opposing teams can’t control once he is set. Everyone knows his strong scoring areas early in his innings are square of the wicket on both sides. The trouble is, once he is set, he scores all around the ground – and is very difficult to reign in once he gets going. De Kock’s been in good form – and has needed to be, as South Africa have continued to experiment with personnel and style. His 455 runs this year have come at a strike-rate of 135.82, and he’s scored five 50s.
That quartet is not the only keeper/ batters that will provide a threat. Nicholas Pooran has blown hot and cold for the West Indies, while Glenn Philips, the South African-born, keeper for New Zealand, has rapidly elevated his status in the last two years, and will want to use the World Cup as the platform to announce himself on the global stage.
The wizards of wicket-keeping may just be the ones to decide this year’s tournament.