England waste their resources by ignoring class of Russell

This giant-killing business is not confined to football. In the past week, the England cricket team have been walloped by Wales, the Indians have crumbled to Kent, the West Indies have been terrorised in Barbados by a fast bowler from New Zealand, and Australia have lost a home one-day series to Pakistan – although the Aussies may not consider it a series on the grounds that it was not ludicrously drawn-out. With eight months to go till the World Cup, this is the moment to check the odds on Namibia making the Super Six.

Perhaps the most unexpected turning worm of all has come from within the domestic game. Just when everything seemed to be going so smoothly, on the Test front at least, the England management has received a stinging rebuke from a group of people who are normally silent apart from the odd overheard yell of "I like it!" or "Bowlin' Browney!" – the nation's wicketkeepers.

In a poll conducted by Wisden Cricket Monthly, the gloves have come off. Asked to name the best exponent of their craft in England, the keepers caused a landslide: Jack Russell received 15 votes, Alec Stewart 3, Keith Piper of Warwickshire 2 and Warren Hegg of Lancashire 1. The one keeper with an England Test contract this summer, James Foster of Essex, did not get a mention.

The poll is significant because wicketkeeping is the most peculiar of cricket's arts. Bowlers have to work batsmen out, and batsmen have to work bowlers out, but the little man in whose hands the ball ends up is studied only by his peers. Batsmen and bowlers receive attention in proportion to their excellence; with keepers, it is in proportion to their failings.

No wicketkeeper has become the England coach, although Rod Marsh must be in with a shout next time, if he is interested. More scandalously, England do not employ a wicketkeeping coach. You can hear the apoplexy in Russell's voice when he tells WCM: "It's just so unprofessional that they'll spend £40m on administration but they won't spend a few thousand on a keeping coach."

For a generation, no English wicketkeeper has even become a regular commentator on the game. The player-correspondents are all former bowlers; columnists tend to be batsmen, or county captains; television regulars can be any of the above, but an unwritten rule states that they may not be keepers unless they are called Ian and come from the Antipodes.

If the England wicketkeeping spot is uncontroversial at the moment, that is partly down to short-memory syndrome. Alec Stewart hit a fine, series-sealing hundred in the last Test, so the debate is closed. But you do not need to look very much closer to see that England have got their wickies in a twist.

There has been no clear policy since Russell, offended by an instruction to dump his heroically dog-eared hat, retired from international cricket in April 1998 – a decision which never exuded an air of permanency. Stewart has been the first choice ever since, except for the Test series against New Zealand in 1999 (Chris Read), the one-dayers in South Africa and Zimbabwe that winter (Read again), and the beginning of this summer (Foster).

It is settling on an understudy that has been the problem. In 1998-99, it was Warren Hegg (who played two Tests, freeing Stewart to bat at his best against Australia for once), in 1999-2000 Read, in 2000-01 Paul Nixon, then Hegg again, along with Foster – and do not forget Marcus Trescothick, who, to England's shame, was handed the gloves for the one-day series in New Zealand four months ago. And all this from a regime which preaches continuity.

The irony is that while the selectors have looked this way and that, they have missed out on the best years of Russell's career. Left to his own devices, Russell has reinvented himself and redefined wicketkeeping, standing up to the Gloucestershire medium-pacers and converting the job from defence to attack. When they won five one-day trophies in two years, he was their midfield general. He is also a more-than-handy batsman whose runs count double because he is so maddening. Never mind wicketkeeper – he is probably the best one-day player in the country.

If England were determined to use their wicketkeeping resources to the full, they would add Russell to the NatWest Series squad (allowing him to wear whatever hat he likes) and sign him up for all the one-dayers in the winter – the mini World Cup in Sri Lanka in September, the annual trudge round Australia, and the World Cup itself. So what if he is rising 39 – Bob Taylor was older than that when he played more than half his 57 Tests.

Stewart could then be saved for the Test side. In an ideal world, he would play against Australia as a top-order specialist batsman – he averages 36 with the bat in Ashes cricket when not keeping, and 27 when lumbered with the gloves. In the real world, he will remain the keeper, and his partnership with Andrew Flintoff at six and seven gives England at least a chance of matching Martyn and Gilchrist.

Meanwhile, someone has to be groomed to take over. It could be Foster, who has the balls and the batting ability, even if he can't yet be relied on to catch a sitter. It could be Piper, whom Russell chose in the poll. It could be anybody as long as he is the best.

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
musicKate Bush asks fans not to take photos at London gigs
News
i100
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment