With all the speculation flying around about the future of Australian wicket-keeper Brad Haddin, I thought I would take the opportunity to look at the history of the men who have stood behind the stumps.
They are indeed an exclusive bunch.
In 135 years, only 31 men have been accorded the honour of wicket-keeper of the Australian cricket team.
Of these, five played a single Test, one played two Tests, while eight played fewer than 10 Tests.
This leaves then just 17 men who kept wicket in 10 or more Tests.
But only 11 men have kept wicket for Australia in over 20 Tests, making that a very exclusive club indeed.
Our very first long-term custodian was apparently right out of the top drawer – Jack Blackham.
He played 35 tests from 1877-94.
Some historians continue to argue that in pure terms, he remains the best keeper we’ve ever had.
Blackham was followed by Jack ‘Stumper’ Kelly, who was reputedly almost as good.
Just as good or better in the eyes of some.
Kelly played 36 Tests from 1896-1905.
Kelly was followed by Hanson ‘Sammy’ Carter, whose profession was an undertaker.
Again, Carter was considered by some as being as good or even better than his predecessors.
Post World War I, Carter was good enough to keep the much younger Bert Oldfield out of the Test team, playing eight of 13 tests in 1920/21.
Carter played 28 tests from 1907-21.
Oldfield finally made the position his for most of the inter-war years, playing 54 tests between 1920-37.
Bradman thought Oldfield was our best keeper until Don Tallon came along.
There was a furore when the 22-year-old Tallon was omitted from the 1938 Ashes touring team.
As it was, he had to wait until after World War II, when he was 30, before making his debut against New Zealand in 1946.
Tallon played 21 tests 1946-53, and is quite often regarded as our best keeper, batting aside.
Even on this count, his first-class batting average was an excellent 30.
Gil Langley replaced Tallon as our premier keeper, playing 26 Tests from 1951-56.
Although thickset, Langley was appeciated for his craft.
Hot on the heels of Langley came one of our most beloved keepers, Wally Grout.
Like Kelly, Carter, Tallon and Langley before him, Grout was either 29 or 30 when he debuted.
Generally speaking, our best keepers have had to bide their time.
Grout played 51 tests between 1957-66, then died tragically in 1968 at age 41 from a massive heart-attack.
He gave his name to the rhyming slang for ‘your shout’.
Desiring another long-term keeper, the selectors took a punt in 1970 on Rod ‘Bacchus’ Marsh.
Despite earning the insulting tag of ‘iron gloves’ early in his career, Marsh improved to the point where only the extraordinary Englishman Alan Knott was considered his superior throughout the 1970s.
Marsh ended up playing 96 Tests 1970-84.
He was also an excellent bat in his early years, and was the first specialist Australian keeper to hit a Test century – 118 against Pakistan in 1972/73.
It wasn’t until Ian Healy was plucked almost from obscurity in 1988 that Australia found its next long-term custodian.
Healy was our first (and so far only) keeping centurion, playing 119 Tests from 1988-99.
Healy was named wicket-keeper in the Team of the Century announced in early 2000.
Despite his all-round greatness, Heals couldn’t keep Adam Gilchrist at bay forever, and Gilly’s batting alone demanded he be selected in the Test team.
Since then, Gilly has become recognised as our best ever keeper, largely on the basis of his explosive batting.
He simply redefined the position of the number seven batsman-cum-wicket-keeper.
Gilly played 96 Tests from 1999-2008.
Following Gilly is the now maligned Brad Haddin, who was always going to find it a hard act to follow Gilly.
To date, Haddin has played 32 Tests since 2008.
Six other keepers managed to play 10-19 Tests, often waiting a long time for their opportunity.
Barry Jarman toured South Africa in 1957/58, along with Grout.
As the much younger man, Jarman was expected to claim the position, but alas, not so.
By the time Jarman did get it in 1967/68 he was 30, and he only played 19 Tests overall 1959-69.
Jarman was replaced by Brian Taber, a tidy and efficient keeper.
When Jarman was unavailable to tour South Africa again in 1966/67 (with Grout retired), Taber played the five Tests.
He finished with 16 Tests from 1966-70.
Steve Rixon and Ken Wright were two of the three keepers used by Australia during the World Series Cricket dispute.
Rixon eventually played 13 Tests from 1977-85, and Wright 10 Tests 1978-80.
Two more keepers reached double figure tests – Wayne Phillips kept wicket in 18 Tests in 1984-86, and Tim Zoehrer in 10 Tests 1986-87.
When Haddin is eventually pensioned off, who will be Australia’s next long-term keeper, and member of this very exclusive club?
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia.
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