Concentration is the key

G. VISWANATH

THE legendary England wicketkeeper Godfrey Evans regarded Alan Knott, Bob Taylor and Rodney Marsh as outstanding wicketkeepers of the 1970s and 80s. Taylor was one of Evans' favourites. Taylor even gave up the captaincy of Derbyshire to improve his 'keeping. "The game of cricket has some basic and simple techniques. Cricket is a simple game and keep it simple and be your natural self," said the 61-year-old Taylor at the conclusion of a three-day clinic for wicketkeepers organised by the Cricket Club of India in Mumbai.

VIVEK BENDRE

Taylor (57 Tests, 167 catches, 7 stumpings) said that the second most important player in the team is the wicketkeeper, but as he said: "I don't think Parthiv is confident enough to go up to Sourav Ganguly and advice him. He has still some time to go. But I won't go for a wicketkeeper captain."

Excerpts from an interview:

Question: Your impressions on the three-day clinic and the quality of wicketkeepers who took advantage of it ?

Answer: Very good. They were all excellent. But you cannot really judge them by their performance in the nets. They looked good in the nets, but they've got to transfer that ability into the middle. Even experts and senior players like me cannot judge totally. When it comes to a match situation, it could be different over a long period of time.

Did you pay particular attention to a couple of them (Parthiv Patel and Deep Dasgupta) who have already played for India ?

There were some 15-year-olds and other juniors too; they were all of very high standard. I think Parthiv Patel knew that there's lot of ability out there and they are all fighting for his place. Everybody wants to play for his country, that's the ultimate. I told the boys it would take a lot of hard work and practice and also a lot of success in the middle to take Parthiv's place.

What do you make of Parthiv? Nasser Hussain said at Nottingham that he looked like a 12-year-old and that it was a fantastic thing to happen for world cricket and also it was a great sight to see Steve Harmison bowling to Patel?

Well, he (Patel) did very well there at Nottingham. It's typical of the sub-continent, India and Pakistan, they pick very young players, don't they? I think it's tremendous, India is looking ahead and to the future and that's why players like Patel are in international cricket.

India has not had real consistency since Farokh Engineer and Syed Kirmani. They were the last of the consistent wicketkeepers. I am not taking anything away from Kiran More and Nayan Mongia. They were good wicketkeepers. But they were a little bit inconsistent. Now, India might have a regular wicketkeeper provided he's (Patel) got the temperament over a long period of time. Only time will tell.

You focussed on the fundamentals, keeping it very simple. India's coach John Wright has maintained right through that cricket is all about doing the right things in a straight and simple manner?

Basically, the first quality of a wicketkeeper is concentration. You can have the best pair of hands in the world, but if you don't concentrate, don't stay focussed on what you are doing, then you miss chances. The priority should be always on concentration. That's what I did for three days. It's easy for me to tell an individual, whether he is 16 or 25 years old, about concentration.

Concentrate, it's just a word. But I got to put it over to them in a practical way. And the only practical way I know is that every time the batsman plays the ball, the wicketkeeper has got to go through the motions of having taken it. He should not look where the ball is going. Before he does that he has to go through the motions.

We've all seen wicketkeepers miss chances, miss stumpings when the batsman has gone out of the crease to a spin bowler. He has danced down the wicket and has gone to hit it over the top and he misses the ball. The wicketkeeper makes two mistakes. First from the crouched position he comes up and his hands come up. If the ball keeps low, there's no chance of getting down. What he should do is come up slowly from the crouched position, leaving his arms dangling so that his hands are below his knees. This will enable him to take the ball should it keep low and should it bounce, it is easier to come up with the ball.

The second mistake he makes, which I think is equally crucial, is looking at the direction of the shot. Now, should the batsman miss it, the ball comes through and goes for four byes or hits the wicketkeeper's pad and bounces down. And by the time he scrambles the ball around and whips the bails off, the batsman has had the time to get back into his crease. So he misses a stumping. That's why a wicketkeeper must go through the motions of taking the ball.

I tell these wicketkeepers what it's like to keep wicket in a Test match. I was the 'keeper when Mudassar Nazar scored the slowest Test hundred some years ago in Lahore. I was out there for almost three days. So concentration is important and for a long period of time. The sooner one loses concentration and focus, something will happen.

So I always tell these young wicketkeepers, try and envisage, not particularly anticipate, the batsman nicking the ball or the batsman going out of his crease. If you are reading the game, you can feel the batsman itching to get out of the crease to a spinner. The reason wicketkeepers miss chances is because they are surprised, whereas they should be expecting it. Talk to yourself and concentrate. Sunil Gavaskar always used to talk to himself..concentrate...concentrate, especially when facing Derek Underwood and John Emburey. That's why he scored 10,000 plus runs.

Your impressions on the modern wicketkeepers like Adam Gilchrist and Mark Boucher. They bat well, too. Would you say that these two have set new trends, although in the past there have been 'keepers who scored many runs...

They are a different breed, aren't they? I think they are more sort of one-day wicketkeepers. Well, Adam Gilchrist comes in at No. 7 in a Test match... he 's the time to recover. Mark Boucher comes at No. 7. I don't think they are perhaps as good as their predecessors, Ian Healy and Dave Richardson. Gilchrist is a better batsman than Healy and Boucher is a better batsman than Richardson. Alec (Stewart) bats higher and has done a very good job.

Godfrey Evans has gone on record that "Alan Knott, Bob Taylor and Rodney Marsh can be discussed in the same breath".

That's a compliment to be put in that position, to be classed with them. Ian Healy has got the record number of Test dismissals, then I think Rodney Marsh and Alan Knott...I come much lower because I only played 57 Tests.

You and Knott together had well over 400 victims...that says a lot about your performances...some said you were a better wicketkeeper and that Knott was a better batsman?

I got frustrated, but you cannot do much about that. You have got to be philosophical. I was one of 16 best players on a touring team and there's only one wicketkeeper in the XI like only one goalkeeper in a football team. So somebody had to play second fiddle. I always remember Bill Lawry, the Australian captain. I don't know, but I liked Bill. I don't know if he's trying to draw me, but he used to say: "Bobby, if I was reincarnated, I would love to be a second wicketkeeper." Now I knew what he meant, there's no pressures of playing Test cricket. But that's exactly opposite. I wanted to be playing. What he meant was there's no pressures doing 12th man duties. Everybody wants to be on the field. "I said, Bill, you wouldn't want to be a second wicketkeeper."

Well, Alan Knott was the No. 1 'keeper and I had to play second fiddle. But as long as I play against South Australia in Australia or South Zone in India and keep doing a good job, I am putting the pressure on Alan Knott to do better because he knows I am challenging his position in the team. That's what the art of reserves is all about. That's what I have told Patel and the other players.

I have seen Patel at Trent Bridge and in a few highlights of the Mumbai and Chennai Tests. I felt watching him at the clinic that he was really trying. He had just played a Test match, had a lot pressure and took a couple of good catches. After that he comes here and he did well. He concentrated.

How's it keeping wicket to Botham, Willis and Underwood ? Was Botham an awkward customer ?

No, no...they swung the ball. The hardest bowling to 'keep to is standing up to the stumps. That's what wicketkeeping is all about. A slip catcher in Test cricket can put the gloves on and do the job standing back. Graham Gooch and John Crawley have kept wicket. Rahul Dravid has done it for India in one day matches. I hope I am not criticising wrongly. Rahul is not really a wicketkeeper, he is a batsman. I think he should stick to batting.

Somehow the cricket world accepts both the flashy and the undemonstrative wicketkeepers? India has had someone like the flashy Farokh Engineer and before him someone like Naren Tamhane, a sure catcher, quick stumper and not flashy at all?

It all depends on the individual. I have always said that you should always be yourself. Be a natural and don't try to copy somebody, because you always come unstuck. If you are just a calm person, doing your job, it would be unnatural being flashy and diving. I don't like diving. You should use your feet, take the ball with your body behind it; there's no need to dive unless it's very wide. If you are on your toes, then you can take the ball.

You played 57 Tests, but just one Test before the World Series Cricket... but at the end of it all you must have been delighted playing 57 Tests for England?

Oh yes. I think even if you play one Test match, nobody can take it away from you. It will always be Taylor, Derbyshire, England. If you are good you will always succeed.