Cricket: Artisan Healy the spinner's best friend

Henry Blofeld highlights a wonderful piece of skill by Australia's wicketkeeper that caused Mark Butcher's downfall
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The Independent Online
The most brilliant piece of cricket on a day of deep disappointment for England was provided by Ian Healy, Australia's magnificent and perhaps underrated wicketkeeper.

His legside stumping of Mark Butcher was an act which no keeper at any time could have bettered and only a handful could have equalled.

Michael Bevan came on at the Stretford End to bowl his left-arm spin. First, Butcher drove him through the offside for two to reach an excellent fifty. In his mind, Butcher may still have been celebrating when he received a full toss down the legside. He tried to glance it, more than hit it, fell away to the off and missed altogether.

The ball pitched in the crease which always makes it difficult for the wicketkeeper. Healy, whose footwork is as quick and sure as Alan Knott's was, moved quickly across to the legside. His glove work is no worse than Knott's either and he took the ball smoothly in both hands and had the bails off in a flash. Butcher was comfortably out of his crease although the third umpire was called in to adjudicate. It was a moment of pure genius.

Later, Healy held two sharp catches off Shane Warne which many keepers might have missed. He not only has the safest pair of hands but his anticipation is also brilliant. He always seems to be on the move but never in the wrong place when it matters.

Warne owes a lot to Healy, who reads his spin perfectly and has been responsible for many of his wickets, and not just those who he has caught and stumped. Healy himself is a threat to batsmen. They think twice about leaving their crease and going down the pitch to Warne because they fear the man behind them.

As a result of this, batsmen have often been more hesitatant than they should to try to take the battle to Warne and rest the initiative from him. In persuading the batsmen not to leave their crease in this way, Healy has undoubtedly helped turn Warne into an even more dangerous bowler. It is easier to dominate when you know you are unlikely to be attacked.

It is impossible not to compare Warne and Healy with left-arm spinner Derek Underwood and Knott in the late 60s and 70s. Underwood would be the first to admit that Knott's very presence made him a better bowler. Another by-product of a combination of wicketkeeper and spinner like these two examples is that they provide wonderful entertainment. Anyone who saw Healy stump Butcher will never forget it.

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