Out of the 220 cricketers to get the Test cap for Pakistan, 53 have been selected for their prowess behind the stumps. Some have failed, some have excelled whereas some have done both — failed behind the wickets but kept on going due to their brilliance with the willow in hand.
Pakistan’s current wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed is one of those who “bat like Vivian Richards, keep wickets like Rameez Raja”, as the former Test captain-turned commentator said last year during the Pak-Australia ‘home’ series in the United Arab Emirates.
Just like his predecessor Kamran Akmal, Sarfraz has the habit of dropping a crucial one here and there but unlike the long-serving Akmal, he doesn’t make a mess of it.
So why have Pakistan not had more dependable gloves-men in the last 25 years. There were a few who were exceptional but they were less in comparison to those who weren’t.
Let’s take a look at the wicket-keepers Pakistan have tried since Imran Khan unceremoniously dumped Saleem Yousuf 25 years back — and how his successors managed to “serve” Pakistan.
If aliens descended on Earth and searched for the best wicketkeepers Pakistan ever produced, Rashid Latif (37 Tests, 130 dismissals) would have most definitely been in the top three. Making his Test debut in 1992 against England, Rashid served Pakistan for the next 11 years, representing the country in 2 World Cups and countless wins, including the narrow one-wicket victory in Karachi over Australia in 1994.
Be it his full-length diving catch off Indian captain Azharuddin in the World Cup quarter-final in 1996 or his countless “reflex action” takes from the deep, Rashid’s career was cut short by his own idiosyncrasies. He was the first one to stand against the match-fixing saga going on in the Pakistan dressing room (rightly so, but retirement was a bad idea). He was dropped after winning the third ODI against England in 1996 (yes, dropped as he criticised others for not giving their 100 percent) and his controversial catch against Bangladesh cut short his career in 2003.
When Moin Khan (69 Tests, 148 dismissals) made his Test debut against the West Indies in Faisalabad in 1990, he was the second-choice wicket keeper to Saleem Yousuf. By the end of the year, he had become the number one gloves-man but that didn’t mean he was the best in the country. In less than 2 years, he was axed in favour of a dependable Rashid and the game of cat-and-mouse continued till 2004 when Moin retired.
He was by far the most explosive wicket-keeper-batsman Pakistan ever produced and just like the yesteryear wicketkeepers-turned-batsman (Hanif Mohammad was one of the few), he was selected multiple times for his batting prowess. But that didn’t mean his keeping was to be fond of — he dropped far too many catches during his career than he didn’t drop and besides a few tours (Australia in 1996-97, World Cup 1999), it was always “will he or will he not” for fans who grew up watching him. Yes, he is credited for coining Shabash Shabash but that was usually followed by a missed stumping, a dropped catch or an attempt that didn’t happen. His four centuries were record for Pakistan until Kamran Akmal surpassed him with his six as wicketkeeper-batsman.
The other wicketkeeper who managed to shine despite being an Akmal was Adnan, whose career was cut short by injuries after just 21 matches. Adnan Akmal (21 matches, 77 dismissals) was always energetic behind the stumps, jumping here and there and usually the ball ended in his gloves rather than on the ground. He remains one of the better wicketkeepers to don the whites for Pakistan and if Sarfraz Ahmed is dropped or rested in the future, Adnan will be the ideal replacement.
Talking of Sarfraz, the wicketkeeper’s costly miss on the final day of the Colombo Test cost Pakistan the match but then it was his batting that had turned the game in his team’s favour a Test earlier. He is the most dependable lower order batsman Pakistan has produced in recent years and his three centuries last year is a proof of that.
The coach Waqar Younis isn’t fond of him but when Sarfraz is out there with the willow in his hand, anything is possible.
Sadly, the same can be said of his glovesmanship which he needs to improve if he is to serve Pakistan cricket in the long run.
Terming Kamran Akmal (53 matches, 206 dismissals) as the worst Pakistani wicketkeeper would be as incorrect as calling Javed Miandad a mediocre batsman; Kamran’s name will feature on top of the list for “how to represent your country without distinction”. When he was behind the stumps, the bowler didn’t have the surety that a nick might actually end up in the gloves of the wicketkeeper. He was responsible for cutting short the careers of many promising bowlers, including Danish Kaneria and Shoaib Akhtar — one took to betting and match-fixing while the other retired from the game after the “smiling assassin” failed to collect two edges from Ross Taylor’s bat during the World Cup in 2011. His performance in the tour Down Under a year back was so pathetic that Sarfraz Ahmed had to be sent from Pakistan as younger brother Umar refused to keep wickets — a show of Akmal solidarity.
Yes ‘Kami’ was one of the better batsmen in the side but his batting heroics were always eclipsed by his “keeping disasters”. For those who believe that he has a chance of making a comeback to the national side, please don’t raise his hopes.
The only person who joins him in the worst category is Zulqarnain Haider, the wicketkeeper who could see “crazy people walking”. He scored 88 runs on his debut against England on the ill-fated “spot-fixing” tour in 2010, but threw his career away by trying to ape Rashid Latif (everyone is corrupt, was his motto) and his decision to leave the team during an on-going series cost him his chances of ever representing Pakistan again.