Milind Bhise - 01 March 2002
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the best Indian wicket-keeper of them all? The best available talent is what should theoretically go into the make-up of the national team, correct? So how can we answer for Deep Dasgupta? Of late, this question has been debated vociferously in the media, and Dasgupta’s poor performance behind the stumps on opening day of the second Test match against Zimbabwe will continue to provide much-needed ammunition for such a debate. To sum up, Dasgupta was consistently inconsistent.
A quick look at some statistics might be interesting. Dasgupta allowed five byes on Day One of the second Test and seven byes in the first Test. That is one bye every 60 runs thus far. During the England series, he allowed one bye every 49 runs. Compare that with two byes that South Africa allowed in Australia’s mammoth score of 672 during the recently concluded Test match at Johannesburg. Furthermore, byes tell only part of the story. In addition to clean glove-work, capitalising on chances and an ability to convert half-chances is critical at this level. Unfortunately, Dasgupta, the keeper, has not performed at the level expected in a Test match.
A typical cricket team should include genuine batsmen, genuine bowlers and a genuine wicket-keeper. Having a genuine all-rounder is not a requirement, although it is certainly icing on the cake. But let us stress the adjective in the phrase "genuine wicket-keeper." It definitely is a specialist’s job and should be treated as such.
Our selection think-tank is sometimes amazing in the manner it defies logic. On the one hand, they should be complimented for taking the bold decision of including Virender Sehwag in place of VVS Laxman. However, the same group decided to retain Dasgupta because he is a good batsman. It begs the question, then, what is more important - a good wicket-keeper who can bat, or a good batsman who can (sort of) keep wickets? Trust our selectors to come up with answers that defy common sense.
Catches win matches, goes a cricketing cliché. A failure to grab the catches offered could certainly mean the difference between losing and winning. How many times have we seen teams like Australia and South Africa grabbing half-chances that turned the tide of the game? Or, for that matter, how many times have we seen our own magicians of spin dominating and decimating the opposition because of tremendous support from close catchers (which, by the way, included the wicket-keeper)? A well-flighted ball from Bishan Singh Bedi or Erapalli Prasanna, drawing a confused batsman forward only to be foxed and stumped by the keeper, was a delight to watch.
A grassed chance not only shatters the bowler’s confidence and enthusiasm, but it also undermines all the strategy and hard work that the bowler has put in up to that point. And if you are a player like Sachin Tendulkar or Brian Lara or Steve Waugh, these chances can prove extremely costly, as has been shown time and again. Had Syed Kirmani not grabbed a chance that dismissed a dangerous-looking Bacchus in the 1983 World Cup final, things might have been different. Of course, the effect of a dropped catch is the same whether it is dropped by a keeper or by anyone else on the field.
To his credit, though, Dasgupta has certainly proved to be a good opening batsman and a consistent one at that. He has faced both pace and spin with equal ease and has managed to score well. Could he be in the team as a specialist batsman? That is for the selectors and team management to decide. But they should not ignore the role of a specialist wicket-keeper.
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