Stop the Stop Gap Back Stops

Since 2005, England have had rather a string of wicket keepers, in the search of the perfect ‘keeper batsman. Perhaps they have finally found the right man. When I first noticed that Ambrose was now keeping wickets for England, I was a little surprised. Of course, England has never shied away from employing all kinds – the services of West Indians, Indians, South Africans, Zimbabweans and even ex-con colonials have all been welcomed – but I thought it was going to be strange seeing a six-foot-nine Antiguan with a menacing stare, standing up to the wicket for Panesar.
However, it turns out that England’s current Test ‘keeper is not Curtly Ambrose, but Timothy Raymond Ambrose. He’s played for Sussex and now Warwickshire – but don’t be deceived, he’s Australian born and bred. He was born at Newcastle, NSW, Australia and went to High School at Merewether. Why you would voluntarily leave there, I do not know. Cricinfo does not appear to know either, so I can’t tell you when, or why, he went to England.

Since England’s halcyon days of 2005, the side has struggled and part of the reason is that England has had difficulty in finding a wicket keeper. Trust me: If you wear gloves while England fields, you have reason to be nervous. And that’s not because of your team’s pace bowling attack.

There is a good web site I use for research (http://www.earthsci.unimelb.edu.au/howzstat/). For each country, it lists all active players who have represented their country over the past three years. On England’s list, you will find no less than six wicket keepers. Jones, Read, Nixon, Prior, Mustard and Ambrose. Yikes!

As you will recall, Geraint Jones was the wicket keeper in 2005. His form with the bat fell away badly over the following 12 months and could no longer compensate for his rather ordinary glove work.

England did as only England knows best, and turned to an old hack. Chris Read has been around for a long time. He debuted in 1999 and had a full season of Tests in 2003-04. His keeping was good but he was ditched at the end of the disastrous 2006-07 Ashes campaign, having taken over for the last two Tests, from the temporarily re-instated Jones. (England again doing what England does best, and re-instating)

For the One Day leg of the Ashes tour, England turned to a loud-mouthed, old hack called Nixon. He has a first name but I can’t be bothered looking it up. I doubt that a more irritating player ever walked a cricket field (except perhaps Miandad). Anyway, England’s outrageous ODI series win saw Nixon carry on to the World Cup.

Come the 2007 Test season, England turned to youth and blooded a man of just 25 – Matthew Prior. He went alright in Tests, in my opinion. However, in the One Dayers, some guy called Mustard has had a few games. Prior was ditched after 10 Tests at the start of the just past southern summer, following a disappointing tour of Sri Lanka. He’s made 562 runs at 40.14 with 1 x 100 and 4 x 50. That’s a pass for the batting in my book (and he did score 63 and 79 in his 2nd and 3rd last matches) but I don’t know how the ‘keeping has been – let me know if you like.

Ambrose made his first Test appearance in New Zealand, at the age of 25 years and 94 days (just two weeks older than Prior was). He started with a bang, just like the greatest wicket keeper/batsman of all time, and started with a half century and then a ton. Perhaps it has been the nature of Ambrose’s successes that might give the selectors hope. His opening 55 was scored in difficult circumstances as England lost. He top scored with 102 in the second Test as England levelled the series. Unlike Gilchrist, he rightfully received the man of the match award for his efforts on that occasion.

The opening two Tests in 2008, once again against New Zealand, saw almost no runs from Ambrose’s bat (three to be precise), including his second Test duck. The man wearing the gloves must have been sweating. He then made a timely 67, coming in with England in big trouble at 5-86. With KP (115) and Broad (64), he righted the ship. England then cut through New Zealand twice (Anderson 7-43 and Sidebottom 6-67) to win by an innings.

After six Tests, Ambrose has modest stats with 274 runs at 30.44. However, in addition to being an Aussie, perhaps he has shown that he has what it takes, and the selectors might just stick with him for five more minutes.

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