“Niice Garry” isn’t just Mathew Wade’s patented, between-deliveries call of encouragement to Nathan Lyon — it is a war-cry. MS Dhoni’s instruction to his bowlers to bowl a particular line, is delivered in Hindi. Pujara isn’t fielding in that position just to ‘clap his hands’; it is also a call to arms. So is Rishabh Pant’s shriek when batsmen play a risky shot to India’s spinners.
Most international wicket-keepers are ‘psychologists’ and trained to get under the batsman’s skin, at the best of times.
Great wicket-keepers always team up with their bowlers, feeding them with information and passing on tips every now and then. They also work on the batsmen’s mind, exaggerating the amount of swing and spin off the track, just chatting away with them or constantly conversing with the bowler or the fielders around the bat.
Jos Buttler surely isn’t one of them. He isn’t the best ‘keeper to have played for England in a long time. His abusive rant against Vernon Philander that went viral as the second Test at Newlands drew to a close last week has, however, reignited a series that seemed to have lacked energy till now. The incident may have sent a wrong message to cricket fans the world over, but then, as some former players have said, there are worse things being said on cricket’s battle grounds these days. It was just that Buttler got caught, breaking the 11th commandment, when the stump mic was on.
The England ‘keeper’s reason for getting riled up — perhaps rightly so — was that Philander had blocked his view of the ball in a run-out attempt. Furthermore, he had also allegedly been prevented from throwing the ball to the non-striker’s end. On the Proteas’ medium pacer’s part, he may have inadvertently got into the way and therefore Buttler would have done well to talk to the umpire of what he thought was Philander’s ‘villainous’ act.
One-down in the series, the fifth day of the Test at Newlands was quite challenging for Joe Root’s boys, having had to work hard for every wicket in pursuit of a win. Buttler’s reaction may have stemmed from that frustration and is therefore understandable. It was an issue that the on-field umpires should have dealt with, and dealt with a firm hand. The stump mic picking up the angry outburst – expletives and all – and broadcasting it to the world at large complicated the matter. The England ‘keeper was lucky to have docked only 20 percent of his match fee and picked up one demerit point, his first – under the ICC code.
Buttler is known to be relatively a quiet ‘keeper. At least, not as chirpy as many of the others who don the gloves at the international level, like Tim Paine, Pant and others. An aggressive wicket-keeper along with a bunch of garrulous close-in fielders can put a lot of psychological pressure on batsmen. Former England skipper Mike Brearley once said that the Australians, under Ian Chappell, were like a horde of gangsters. Paine’s team isn’t much different, I guess, with its recent performances to back them.
Steve Waugh, under whose leadership the Australian team was almost unbeatable at the turn of the millennium, took sledging and ‘mental disintegration’ of the opposition to the next level. Towards the end of his career though, the talented Indian team of the early 2000s called his bluff and gave back to the Aussies the jibes they received from them, in equal measure.
Waugh Sr, aka the ‘Ice Man’, decided to call it a day in the Sydney Test of 2004 against India. The diminutive Indian ‘keeper, young Parthiv Patel, decided to give him a ‘fitting’ farewell when he came in to bat on the final day of the match. “C’mon Steve,” he said. “Show us one of your favourite slog-sweeps before you call it quits.” Realising the fact that the little ‘keeper was trying to sledge him, Waugh looked back and said, “Hey! Show a bit of respect. You were in your nappies when I debuted 18 years ago.” Parthiv Patel was born in March 1985 and Waugh had made his Test debut in December the same year, when the ‘keeper was just nine months old!
One of Chappell’s ‘gangsters’ Rod Marsh was ‘keeping in a Western Australia-South Australia match in 1970, when the classy South African batsman Barry Richards walked in to bat and was promptly beaten, first ball. The Australian wicket-keeper, passing the ball onto John Inverarity in the slips, said, “Geez, I thought this bloke could bat a bit.” That evening when Richards was returning to the pavilion, unbeaten on 325, Inverarity turned to Marsh and said cryptically, “I suppose he can bat a bit, Rod!”
Kamran Akmal, the former Pakistani ‘keeper, was known for his clumsiness behind the stumps. His detractors, poking fun at his alleged ineptness, would say that behind every successful batsman in the world was a ‘keeper named Kamran. Once, when he was nominated for the award of ‘Best Wicket-keeper’ by the Pakistani cricket board, one troll inquired if he hadn’t ‘dropped’ the trophy. India’s legendary ‘keeper-batsman Farokh Engineer was also alleged to have been an ‘actor’. Some of his teammates say that he would often muff chances and then pretend as if nothing had happened.
Cricket writer Roy Peskett tells the story of an English batsman, perhaps apocryphal, who needed to be taken down a peg or two, and was next man in to bat. At the fall of the wicket, the wicket-keeper kept the ball, the fast bowler rolled up his sleeves, pounded in breathing fire and let fly with the empty hand. The wicket-keeper promptly threw the ball up in the air and the umpire gave him out. “Good Lord,” said the bemused batsman as he walked back to the pavilion, “he must be really quick. Never even saw it.”
The Englishmen and the Proteas play the third Test at St George’s Park, in Port Elizabeth, 16 January onward, with the series tied at one all. The fourth Test is at The Wanderers, commencing on 24 January. The South Africans, thanks to Buttler’s rage, will be fired up. Overconfidence on the part of Root and his boys, following the win at Newlands, could possibly backfire.
With the need to bring down the English batsmen a peg or two, a la the Peskett story, the South Africans could let loose the pace of Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada, with Philander bending them. In a lighter vein, the tourists will have to make sure however that Quinton de Kock doesn’t keep throwing the ball in the air while the home pacers bowl with empty hands!
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler and coach, he believes in calling a spade a spade.
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