Welcome to the Wonderful World of Wicketkeepers (Kindle)
The journalist Suresh Menon once said ‘You don't have to be mad to be a wicketkeeper, but it helps’. Wicketkeeping is one of the great arts of cricket on which seemingly everyone has an opinion and yet few really know what they are talking about; and the wicketkeepers themselves are an eclectic mix of extroverts and introverts all trying to do the same thing every time they walk onto a cricket field – be perfect. Welcome to the Wonderful World of Wicketkeepers is a book written by a wicketkeeper, Luke Sutton, which lifts the lid on what being a wicketkeeper is really like. This is not a dull technical examination of the art but instead a look into the minds of the best who have done it in England. There is humour, sadness and extraordinary insight as Sutton allows the likes of Jos Buttler, Jack Russell, Sarah Taylor, Alec Stewart, Chris Read, Amy Jones and Geraint Jones to tell their own stories about what it truly meant to be a ‘keeper’.
At the start of this enterprising book, Luke Sutton offers a fresh variation on the C.L.R. James dictum that has become so familiar as not to need quoting. 'Without a true understanding of wicketkeepers, can we truly understand the game of cricket?’ Anyone who has kept wicket at however modest a level will know what he means. Anyone who doesn’t know will be enlightened soon after opening his book.Charles Barr
Sutton was himself a regular keeper in county cricket for 16 years from 1996, for Somerset, Derbyshire, Lancashire, and then Derbyshire again, before retiring in 2011: a career time-span close to that of David Nash, who kept for Middlesex, and whose own book, Bails and Boardrooms, was reviewed here in Summer 2021. Both have suffered from depression, and write about this honestly, but the books otherwise have nothing in common. Nash offered no insights into wicket-keeping as such, in terms of craft or psychology or anything else. This book is full of them.
Sutton’s method is disarmingly simple. He holds conversations, one per chapter, with eleven fellow-keepers, all of them of his own generation, or just before. All deserve to be named here as, in effect, co-authors. Two are women: Sarah Taylor and Amy Jones. Two are still active, Jones and Jos Buttler. Five more, like those three, kept wicket for England in their time: Jack Russell, Alec Stewart, Warren Hegg, Chris Read, Geraint Jones. The remaining three excelled, like Sutton, at county level: Peter Moores (better known now as a coach), Keith Piper, and Michael Bates.
One theme that runs movingly through the book is that of solidarity between keepers. The chosen eleven all speak freely and frankly to Sutton, respecting him as a fellow-expert in the same demanding craft. You might expect to hear some small hint of bitterness from, notably, Russell and Read, given the fact that they were repeatedly left out of England sides in favour of keepers who were less sublimely brilliant but offered more in the way, respectively, of batting (Alec Stewart) and of aggression on both sides of the stumps (Geraint Jones). But Russell and Read are generous to their rivals, as is Sutton himself, protective of all four of them, paying serious tribute to the genuine, if less sublime, skills of Stewart and Jones, both of whom are humbly generous in return. This is typical of a comradeship that runs through the book.
This might seem sentimental, but is surely realistic. The keeper is, as Sutton stresses in his introduction, an isolated figure, always under pressure. The structure of the game is binary: two ends of the pitch, two sets of stumps, two batters, two bowlers, two umpires, alternate overs. But just the one keeper. Slip fielders may likewise go from end to end, but the pressure on the keeper is far more relentless. Any missed catch or stumping is chalked up against them, however hard, however rare – and however unfairly and ignorantly.
Keepers must stand together in defence of their craft and of its recognition, as this book memorably argues. With much more to be said in the context of the wider history of cricket and of the role of keepers within it – but that is another story, within which this book is sure to retain an important and honourable place.