Wicketkeeping and captaincy? Many would say they go together like a horse and marriage. Or so insists ancient custom and hard-held tradition.
At the time of writing, of the 299 men who have captained their country in at least one Test – Tillakaratne Dilshan is on course to become No.300 – just 25, less than 10%, have been timber-minders. Of those trusted, blessed few, only nine have held the reins 10 or more times. Even the bowling fraternity – OK, the bowling allrounders – have been dissed less than that.
Which seems curious. “Being a wicketkeeper gives you a clear view of everything happening on the field,” contended Pakistan’s Moin Khan, a fully-fledged member of that small minority. Who has a better of idea of how the bowlers are bowling, the pitch is behaving and the umpire is twitching? By the same token, the mental strain of keeping is surely a distraction-cum-burden too far.
“You’re not able to concentrate enough,” acknowledged Kiran More, briefly India’s vice-captain in 1990. Besides, how many times a day can a chap trot 50 yards to have a chat with his fast bowlers without doing himself a mischief, not to mention reducing the over-rate to super-duper-slo-mo?
MS Dhoni and Kumar Sangakkara – set to hold centre stage during this English summer – hold little truck with such received wisdom. That exclusive (all right, poorly-stocked) Test stumper-captain chart is headed, comfortably, by Dhoni, who has already led India in 24 Tests – six more than Gerry Alexander, the last white West Indian captain, who held the previous record for more than four decades, and eight clear of Andy Flower.
Check out the 50-over roll of honour and Dhoni’s superiority is even more pronounced. Combine the number of one-day internationals featuring the second and third-ranked keeper-captains – Flower (46) and Sangakkara (45 before his post-World Cup resignation); India’s talisman, who during the World Cup became the first keeper (and 15th man all told) to captain in 100 ODIs, still holds a lead of 11.
Sangakkara, who has never kept wicket while captaining Sri Lanka in a Test, has actually been a marginally more successful leader than Dhoni in ODIs, winning 60% of them to the latter’s 57.84%. The gloved crusaders lie 15th and 20th respectively on the overall list of those who have captained in 20-plus matches, one headed by Michael Clarke (77.78%) and Clive Lloyd (76.19%).
Yet the most remarkable facet of Dhoni’s cock-snooking career to date is his winning percentage at the helm in Tests, 58.33 – enough for fourth place among those who have led their country 20 times or more (see Table 1). Better, in other words, than Mike Brearley and Viv Richards.
The importance of such figures can, of course, be grossly overstated. After all, with all due deference to the planet’s most celebrated cricketing psychotherapist, a captain can only ever be as good as the talent at his disposal and/or the shortcomings of the opposition. Dhoni and Sangakkara, though, pluck a far more melodious string than that.
When Adam Gilchrist retired, the consensus was absolute: never, ever, would we see his like again. Sangakkara and Dhoni, nevertheless, are quietly challenging the conviction that the Australian represented the last word in wicketkeeper-batsmanship.
Granted, both have a vast way to go to match Gilchrist’s 17 Test hundreds: Sangakkara will enter the first Test in Cardiff on May 26 having bagged seven (plus 17 when taking off his allrounder’s hat); Dhoni has four. Yet Sangakkara (8,271) lags less than 1,200 runs behind Gilchrist (9,410) in ODIs, while in the averages, Dhoni (6,049 at 48.78) trails only AB de Villiers (69.72) among keepers who have batted 20 times or more, with Sangakkara (39.95) fourth (Table 2). More illuminatingly, they lie first and second among those with 2,500-plus runs, with Dhoni the more productive by nearly nine runs per innings.
And yes, it may be a stretch (pun completely intended), but should his knees prove stout enough for Dhoni to become just the third keeper to win 100 Test caps – after Mark Boucher (139) and Ian Healy (119) – it is far from inconceivable that he could not only outstrip Gilchrist’s record aggregate of 43 fifty-plus scores (should he deign to tour, which is by no means likely, he will begin the impending Caribbean tour with 24) but also the mighty Aussie’s 5,570 runs (his tally stands at 2,925). Given the unique pressures that go with captaining India, one rather suspects he will have to give up coin-tossing first.
Among stumper-skippers in ODIs, meanwhile (Table 3), nobody has come within a country mile of Dhoni (3,572 runs) and Sangakkara (1,756). Somewhat inevitably, Dhoni (1,502) has also scored the most Test runs in that dual capacity.
Then there’s the sheer consistency of Asia’s finest. Among those who have kept in at least 20 Tests, Flower (53.70) heads the averages, with Sangakkara fifth and Dhoni seventh, both with means to the north of 40, a feat achieved by just eight men (Table 4).
How tempting it is to wonder what heights the Sri Lankan’s overall Test average – 57.25, third-highest among those with 8,000 runs behind Garry Sobers and Jacques Kallis – might have scaled had his energies not been sapped by those duties behind the timbers; after all, he does average over 76 when unencumbered. But let’s resist.
An intriguing postcript surrounds the wicketkeeper’s original raison d’etre-in-chief, namely preventing byes, snaffling edges and whisking off bails. Among those with at least 50 Test victims, the third-best dismissals-per-innings ratio, behind Courtney Browne of the West Indies (2.250) and Gilchrist (1.178), belongs to the most maligned gloveman of them all, Kamran Akmal (2.080). What volumes that speaks for Pakistan’s attack. How tempting it is to wonder how much more impressive that figure might be had he been able to master the noble art of catching. Resist, resist…
TABLE 1: Captain’s Win-Loss Ratio in Tests
|Steve Waugh (Aus)||57||41||9||71.93|
|Don Bradman (Aus)||24||15||3||62.50|
|Ricky Ponting (Aus)||77||48||16||62.34|
|MS Dhoni (India)||24||14||3||58.33|
|Lindsay Hassett (Aus)||24||14||4||58.33|
|Mike Brearley (Eng)||31||18||4||58.06|
|Bill Woodfull (Aus)||25||14||7||56.00|
|Viv Richards (WI)||50||27||8||54.00|
|Shaun Pollock (SA)||26||14||5||53.85|
|Mahela Jayawardene (SL)||28||15||7||53.57|
Highest ODI Batting Average by Wicketkeeper (min. 20 inns)
|AB de Villiers (SA)||28||1534||69.72|
|MS Dhoni (India) *||166||6049||48.78|
|Rahul Dravid (India)||64||2300||44.23|
|Kumar Sangakkara (SL) **||232||8271||39.95|
|Brendan Taylor (Zim)||48||1567||39.17|
|Adam Gilchrist (Aus)||274||9410||35.64|
|Ashish Bagai (Canada)||53||1645||35.00|
|Andy Flower (Zim)||183||5845||34.58|
|Alec Stewart (Eng)||132||4017||33.47|
|Brad Haddin (Aus)||72||2208||32.95|
* Includes 3 games for Asia
** Includes 3 games for ICC World XI and 4 for Asia
TABLE 3: Most ODI Runs by Wicketkeeper-Captain
|MS Dhoni (India)||102||24||4||3572||52.52|
|Kumar Sangakkara (SL)||45||14||1||1756||47.45|
|Andy Flower (Zim)||46||10||0||1077||25.64|
|Ashish Bagai (Canada)||22||9||0||884||49.11|
|Alec Stewart (Eng)||39||5||0||860||22.63|
TABLE 4: Highest Test Average by Wicketkeeper (min. 20 inns)
|Andy Flower (Zim)||100||23||12||4404||53.70|
|Adam Gilchrist (Aus)||137||26||17||5570||47.60|
|Les Ames (Eng)||67||7||8||2387||43.40|
|Matt Prior (Eng)||61||16||4||2148||42.96|
|Kumar Sangakkara (SL)||81||11||7||3177||40.48|
|Clyde Walcott (WI)||24||3||3||888||40.36|
|MS Dhoni (India)||82||20||4||2925||40.06|
|Denis Lindsay (SA)||26||4||3||1000||40.00|
|Brad Haddin (Aus)||54||8||3||1905||39.68|
|Alec Stewart (Eng)||145||23||6||4540||34.92|
Statistics courtesy of CricketArchive, Cricinfo and HowSTAT!