Stumpers will have a crucial role to play

Stumpers will have a crucial role to play

So high are the standards Gilchrist has set, both in front of the stumps as a destructive, game-changing ball-striker and behind it as a safe, sometimes exceptional presence – particularly to Shane Warne – that it’s all but impossible to try and match him. Every team would desperately love to have a Gilchrist clone in its ranks, but it is worth remembering that the Aussie is a once-in-a-lifetime phenom.
The first World Cup in the post-Gilchrist era will be interesting on many counts, not least for how teams apportion roles to the wicket-keeper. England have already sacrificed the flamboyance of left-handed Steve Davies at the top of the order for Matt Prior, the long-serving stumper who until recently was superfluous to the one-day scheme of things, while India have opted to go in without a specialist back-up for their captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Having dabbled with numerous options once Brendon McCullum expressed a desire to be relieved of wicket-keeping duties to focus on his batting alone, New Zealand have returned to their most successful stumper-batsman, with the likes of Peter McGlashan and Gareth Hopkins not having done enough with the bat to command a place in the side. Pakistan have overlooked Kamran Akmal’s numerous misadventures and brought him back for the biggest event on the cricketing calendar, while it’s a paucity of options, more than anything else, that has forced the West Indies to stick with Carlton Baugh, the little man with not very impressive credentials as a top-quality batsman.

The increasing challenges of the limited-overs game have all but spelt the death-knell of the specialist wicket-keeper, but unlike in the past, teams are also wary of going in with makeshift glovesmen because one dropped catch or one missed stumping can prove decisive.

Rahul Dravid was more than just a ‘makeshift’ ’keeper, because while he hadn’t kept competitively since his school days before taking up the big gloves with the 2003 World Cup in mind, he left no stone unturned in a bid to keep improving and providing value behind the stumps. Dravid was more than passable behind the stumps; he provided immense value in front of it, effortlessly embracing the role of the finisher in the company of young turks Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif during the World Cup.
No wicket-keeper, however, has influenced a limited-overs game of cricket as decisively and emphatically as Gilchrist. At the top of the order, he approached the task of facing the new ball with the same intrepid, positive mindset as he  did in Tests, setting the tone with demoralising ball-hitting to immediately help his team snatch the initiative. He went through the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean without an innings of substance. Come the final, though, with squash ball in his bottom hand, he decimated Sri Lanka with an innings of pure abandon to settle the issue in no time.

The closest anyone has come to replicating the Gilchrist effect is Dhoni. McCullum has shown from time to time that he can take attacks apart, but he has been far too inconsistent in the 50-over game. Dhoni is a different cup of tea; at number three, he can pulverise attacks, like he did with his unbeaten 183 against Sri Lanka in 2005. He has seldom batted at that position since, despite possessing an excellent record at one-drop. Maybe that’s something the Indian skipper should consider, especially given the wealth of runs above and the tremendous depth below him.

Kumar Sangakkara has occupied that number three slot for Sri Lanka, but he is more a controller of innings than a take-the-game-by-the-scruff-of-the-neck dictator. Given India’s batting might, Dhoni could so easily make the move up to number three, even if sparingly, with devastating effect.