Ashley Giles' first move as England's white ball supremo, or at least the first that cannot be cloaked in the fog of rotation, has been to ditch a keeper in favour of a county team-mate who is second-choice with the gloves back at home. "It has been slightly awkward," admitted Jos Buttler, gamely.
Choices on tour are limited, and Kieswetter's abject form left him with little credit in his account but it feels like a pivotal time for the position itself, so secure in the Test side, so fluid everywhere else.
It's a matter of philosophy, the future of keeping in the post-Gilchrist era, and Giles appears to be thinking quite conventionally about it. Someone like Butler is the acme of this approach, a guy who is essentially a batsman with a second string to his bow. England have a raft of them that they can argue over, from Bairstow to Kieswetter, while they apparently lack the desire to solve the conundrum of their one true thoroughbred, Matt Prior.
But, as this blog has long held, 50 over cricket is dead; it just hasn't finished threshing about on the hook yet. It's in the T20 game that Giles' approach will have longer term implications, and there's an emerging argument (well from me at least) that a complete reappraisal of the wicketkeeper's role is coming.
Like Duckworth Lewis, it's simply an equation of resources. T20 is a game for specialisation, because unlike Test and ODI cricket, those resources are rarely exhausted in the time allocated.
The maths goes something like this: at the start of each game, the wicketkeeper is the only specialist position guaranteed to be able to affect a minimum of 50 per cent of the match while using their primary skill (the 20 overs for which they keep). A bowler has ten per cent (four of 40 overs), the two opening batsmen an unlikely maximum of 50 per cent, the other batters a sliding downward scale from there.
Accepting that almost everyone can field well, and that all-rounders increase their overall percentages by batting and bowling, it's easy to see that the most valuable player in these simple terms of opportunity would be an opening bat that can bowl (Chris Gayle, perhaps), although the occasions on which even the transcendent Jamaican carries his bat occur infrequently.
The wicketkeeping position can therefore be reimagined as an attacking option for a fielding side. It's an opportunity to reduce the effectiveness of the batsman by keeping him in his crease against seam bowling, thus reducing his scoring options. While it's hard to quantify exactly how many runs might be saved by a gloveman capable of standing up to the seamers, it is a move that would challenge many of the techniques of T20 batting. It might not be fanciful to guess that the score might be limited by 20-30 per innings, at least until batsmen adjusted in turn.
It first suggested itself in the performance of Michael Bates in the CB40 final last season. It's easy to go into some kind of reverie when watching him keep; he brings back memories of Bob Taylor standing up to Ian Botham, of the impish skills of Knott, the silken hands of Russell. Hampshire have choked many a side with a combination of skiddy medium pace, spin and Bates behind the dollies.
Taylor, Knott and Russell were a different shape to the gym-produced, identikit bodies that burst forth from the tight-shirted present. The demands of the job mitigate against the physique needed for power hitting, and a specialist keeper might have to be regarded a little like a bowler, with his main contribution coming in the field. But without running the stats, it would be interesting to know how often the seventh batter in a line-up has done the job when six others couldn't.
Bates is an obvious choice for Giles and England. A less immediate but nonetheless intriguing selection for a county side might be Sarah Taylor. She is lithe and athletic, attributes that are evident in her keeping. The debate about her lack of power as a batter has rather blindsided the fact that it is motor skill and movement, rather than strength, that make a great wicketkeeper. It's in circumstances like these, a short game where a single skill can have a disproportionate effect, that a cricketer like Taylor might one day fit.
Wisden Obituaries you may have missed Part I
3 days ago