Artisans replace the lost artists

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The Independent Online

For some years now the noble art of wicketkeeping has been increasingly compromised. The standard in the first two Test matches in India has underlined the parlous state which has been reached. There was a time, not all that long ago, when both Jamie Foster and Deep Dasgupta would have been lucky to have played first-class let alone Test cricket.

In the Mohali Test, Foster made his debut and while one must allow for first-night nerves, he made two howlers in India's first innings. He failed to take a ball from Richard Dawson outside the off stump with Sourav Ganguly stranded down the pitch and, standing back, he missed a straightforward gloved chance down the leg side from Rahul Dravid.

Foster has clearly modelled himself on Jack Russell who, for all his moments of brilliance, let too many chances go begging in his England days. What strikes one most about Foster is his lack of suppleness. When he takes the ball there is little give in his gloves and he is an awkward-looking keeper.

This may in part be because he is tall and it has almost never been a job tall men find easy. An exception was South Africa's John Waite, who kept to Neil Adcock and Peter Heine, both as quick as any fast bowlers around, as well as off-spinner Hugh Tayfield. He did the job well without any flamboyance, in addition to being a front-line batsman.

When Foster crouches to take up his stance with his gloves together and with the palms facing down the pitch, they seem surprisingly narrow. Legislation recently restricted the size of the webbing between thumb and forefinger which had been close to turning keepers' gloves into baseball gloves.

All the same, when Godfrey Evans kept for England after the war, his gloves, which had a relatively small web, were far wider than they seem today. Modern gloves are thinner and may allow keepers more finger movement, but maybe the apparent narrowness of the palms has something to do with the larger number of balls keepers fail to take cleanly these days.

To give Foster his due, he had a better Test in Ahmedabad and this will have stemmed from the 40 important runs he made in England's first innings. For all that, he failed to take a number of balls cleanly, especially from the spinners and still looked a little awkward. Can anyone remember Alan Knott or Bob Taylor? Dasgupta had a much worse time here at Ahmedabad than at Mohali. He does not find it easy with the spinners, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble, and he also missed one or two simple edges standing back. But he made 100 in the first Test and 60 in the second.

No one doubts that Nayan Mongia is the better keeper. He is not thought of as a team man though, and nor is he as good a batsman. It is the batting of both Foster and Dasgupta which may secure their positions behind the stumps although this must be a false logic, especially if you struggle to bowl sides out. Then surely you want the best equipped man to make the most of every available chance.