It is probably a forlorn hope, but wouldn't it be nice if the days of specialist wicketkeepers were not completely dead and buried

Ben Bloom
The Telegraph
Ben Cox (right) says he wants to be the next James Foster (left) - getty images
Ben Cox (right) says he wants to be the next James Foster (left) - getty images

The platitudes were understandable, but underneath his bland words Ryan Davies would surely have been wondering what it all meant for his future.

"It's an interesting one for me, but it's always healthy to have competition for places in the squad," he said, as he came to terms with losing his first-choice wicketkeeper status at Somerset. "It's only ever going to make me perform better so we'll have to see how we go."

Born and bred in Kent, Davies, 20, had made the decision just 16 months prior to relocate his life from one side of the country to the other under the promise of regular first-team cricket in the West Country.

The move had seemingly paid dividends and he played in all but one of Somerset's County Championship matches as they missed out on an historic first title by a whisker. But 27 catches and six stumpings were not enough. There are metrics and then there are metrics.

And the one that mattered was this: Deployed predominantly as a number nine batsman (and sometimes dropping as low as 10), he scored just 380 runs at an average of 21.11.

<span>Ryan Davies has fallen down the pecking order at Somerset</span> <span>Credit: rex </span>
Ryan Davies has fallen down the pecking order at Somerset Credit: rex

Not good enough. So Somerset reached for the phone last September and signed 30-year-old Surrey gloveman Steven Davies — a player who averages in excess of 40 in first-class cricket.

The usual banal comments will doubtless emerge once the 2017 season trundles into action next week. We (and he) will be told that the younger Davies will "gain invaluable experience" from working under his more accomplished team-mate.

But likely to be plying his trade with the Somerset Second XI at Taunton Vale - rather than the County Ground in the same town — Davies's success will be measured not by catches and byes, but runs scored.

Which is why, in this era of switch-hitting and scoop shots, there is something gloriously quaint about the aspirations of another wicketkeeper selected to don the gloves for the MCC against the champion county Middlesex last weekend.

"I want to be the next James Foster," said Ben Cox, who has a career first-class batting average of 28.76 and list A average of 16.42. "I want to be the best keeper in the country. I want that tag."

<span>Chris Read has long been considered one of the finest wicketkeepers in England</span> <span>Credit: getty images </span>
Chris Read has long been considered one of the finest wicketkeepers in England Credit: getty images

Rated as perhaps the best wicketkeeper of all time by Jack Russell — a veteran of 54 Tests, who knows more than a thing or two about standing behind the stumps — Foster made just 23 appearances for his country in all forms of the game for the simple reason that he did not score enough runs.

Chris Read — one of the outstanding keepers of his generation, who announced his upcoming retirement this week — suffered a similar fate and played his last international match more than a decade ago despite developing into a fine middle-order batsman as his career evolved.

The demise of the specialist wicketkeeper at international level is nothing new of course. The death knell began with the growth of limited-overs internationals, continued to toll through the era of the great keeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist and was deafening by the time England decided to hand Vikram Solanki the gloves in the latter stages of the inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007.

<span>Jos Buttler is currently the man in possession of the England ODI gloves</span> <span>Credit: ap </span>
Jos Buttler is currently the man in possession of the England ODI gloves Credit: ap

Since then, England's ODI wicketkeepers have included Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior, Craig Kieswetter, Jonny Bairstow and currently Jos Buttler — men with varying degrees of proficiency behind the stumps, but all of whom would not be so bold as to rank themselves in the same category as Foster and Read.

"I think the standard of wicketkeeping generally has gone down over the last few years," said Read, way back in 2009.

"It's less good than when I started. When I started out there were very few poor ones and loads of good ones, people like Steve Rhodes or Keith Piper, who was awesome.

"Now there are some good ones around, but the emphasis is on batting."

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I still remember the amazement I felt when bowling in the first game I played for my cricket club. A medium-paced trundler masquerading as an opening bowler, I was unaccustomed to wicketkeepers standing up to the stumps when I came on to bowl.

In the latter stages of his cricketing career and at a time when you would have expected his glovework powers to be on the wane, our keeper Frank Baglivi — who would cheerfully relish his position as number 11 batsman — promptly strode to the stumps and collected my rank leg-side half-volleys with ease.

While Frank sadly passed away earlier this year, in his own small way he provided me with a fond memory that will remain with me forever — a reminder of an art form that can be stunning when executed properly.

In an age where wicketkeepers are judged more on the runs they score than the catches they take, it would be nice to think that Cox's aspiration "to be the the next James Foster" does not serve as the body blow to his England hopes. Or where the younger of the two Davies keepers does not have to place less emphasis on his glovework to get back into the Somerset team.

Only in the strange world of wicketkeeping can being the best possibly not be good enough.


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