Test Cricket really does test the patience and perseverance of a cricketer. This is the reason why, even in the world of glamorous T20s, a player isn’t termed ‘great’ until he proves his worth in whites. But Test Cricket isn’t only a contest between the bowler and the batsmen. The wicket-keeper is perhaps the person who has to go through the most rigorous sessions, the slip catchers have to wait endlessly for that faint nick to grab onto, and the fielders in other positions need to concentrate endlessly to create new opportunities for their team. Here is our tribute to unsung fielding performances as we walk down memory lane and take a look at the 10 most incredible fielding and wicket-keeping efforts in the history of Test cricket.
10 – Matthew Hayden’s 7 catches versus Sri Lanka
It was a difficult task to keep this strong man out of the game. He would smash bowlers to all parts of the park and was also a great fielder in the slips and around the point region. In this particular Test Match against the Sri Lankans at Galle, Hayden took 3 catches in first innings. In the second innings, after scoring a brilliant hundred, he displayed superb slip catching as he held three catches off the bowling of Shane Warne and one off Stuart McGill to equal the then-world record of 7 catches. For his efforts with the bat and on the field he was awarded the Player of the Match.
9 – Hashan Tillakaratne’s 7 catches versus New Zealand
Hashan Tillakaratne was a wonderful wicketkeeper who played for more than 15 years for Sri Lanka. But he would often make it to the side on his batting talent alone. In this Test Match versus New Zealand Tillakaratne stood in the slips and grabbed every chance that came his way. In the first innings he grabbed 3 catches as Sri Lanka forced the Kiwis to follow-on. In the second innings he added another 4 catches taking his match total to 7 catches which has remained a record by a Lankan player for the last 25 years. Tillakaratne also made 93 in the first innings and his all-round effort earned him the Player of the Match award in the game.
8 – Amal Silva’s 9 Dismissals versus India
Sri Lankan wicket keeper Amal Silva played only 9 Tests in his career but twice achieved the rare feat of effecting 9 dismissals in a Test Match – and remarkably he did this in back-to-back matches! His second effort against India was special. In the first innings he took 4 catches at important stages of the contest to help his side take an important lead. In the second innings he followed it up with 5 catches taking his match tally to 9 and helped his team win the match by 149 runs. This win and the efforts of Silva will always remain in the minds of the Sri Lankan fans as it was their first ever Test win.
7 – Bob Taylor’s 10 catches against India
Bob Taylor spent much of his career in the shadows of the legendary Alan Knott and played only a single Test match before Knott accepted Kerry Packer’s contract. When he eventually became a regular part of the English Test side, he made the world take note of his skills. English fans still recall his efforts behind the stumps against India at Mumbai. In the first Innings he took 7 catches to equal the world record of most catches by a wicket-keeper, a record that stands nearly four decades later. In the second innings he grabbed on to three more chances and helped his teammates bowl the Indian side out cheaply, scripting a Test win for the visitors.
6 – Greg Chappell’s 7 catches versus England
When Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson were breathing fire with the ball the slips became the most important place to field – and teammates were gently advised not to drop a catch off their bowling! Fortunately, Greg Chappell was a superb fielder. In the 2nd Test of the Ashes Series in 1974 at Perth, Chappell grabbed 3 catches in the first innings and followed it up with 4 catches in the second innings. His match tally of 7 catches was the most by a fielder back then. Among the many cricketers that Chappell went past in this Test Match one was his own grandfather Vic Richardson who had established this record 40 years earlier!
5 – Yajurvindra Singh’s 7 catches versus England
If you are a debutant, the captain is most likely to put you at short-leg for the spinners. When the bowling line-up includes Bishen Singh Bedi, Erappali Prasanna and Bhagwath Chandrasekhar there is no more important place to the field! Yajurvindra Singh, making his debut at Bangalore, was asked to field there by Bedi and he didn’t let his skipper down. In the first innings he equalled the 40 year old record by claiming 5 excellent catches. In the second innings he grabbed on to 2 more chances to take his match tally to 7 catches, which was a record back then. India won the match comfortably and Singh still holds the record for best fielding performance on debut.
4 – Adam Gilchrist’s 10 Dismissals versus New Zealand
If you are wicketkeeper and have the likes of Glen McGrath, Shane Warne and Brett Lee in your team you are likely to have your name high on the list of dismissals. With 416 dismissals in 96 Test Matches, Adam Gilchrist is second most prolific keeper of all-time and also has the best average of 2.178 dismissals per innings. In a game against rivals New Zealand at Hamilton, Gilly took 5 catches each in both the innings. He also scored a handy 75 after coming in to bat with his team struggling at 104 for 6. For his efforts, both behind the stumps and in front of them, Gilchrist was declared the Player of the Match as Australia won by 6 wickets.
3 – Ajinkya Rahane’s 8 catches versus Sri Lanka
Slip fielding is as much an art as it is a test of patience, especially against spinners on the turning tracks of the sub-continent. Ajinkya Rahane stepped into the big void left by Rahul Dravid and settled in well. In this particular Test Match, versus the Sri Lankans at Galle, he took 3 catches in the first innings and followed it up with 5 more in the second innings to establish a new world record of 8 catches in a Test Match. While his efforts weren’t enough to prevent a loss (the Indians were bowled out for only 112 chasing 184 for victory), it was quite an incredible feat to create a new high-water mark in 140 years of cricket.
2 – AB de Villiers’s 11 Dismissals versus Pakistan
The incredible run machine that he is, people often tend to ignore the skilful man behind the stumps. AB de Villiers would easily make it to the best Test XI of his era and he showed his incredible glove work against the Pakistanis at Johannesburg. In Pakistan’s first innings ABD latched onto 6 catches that came his way and the visitors were demolished for mere 49 runs. He scored a brilliant 103* in the second innings before taking another 5 catches, playing a key role in a massive 211 run win over the visiting side.
1 – Jack Russell’s 11 Dismissals versus South Africa
In nearly 150 years of Test cricket there has been only two instance of a wicket keeper being involved in 11 dismissals in a game, so it’s no wonder that the man who first reached this milestone makes it to the top of our list. The best word to describe Jack Russell who was a regular part of English side in the 90s would be ‘eccentric’. In the concerned Test Match against the South Africans at Johannesburg he took 6 catches in the first innings of the match and followed it up with another 5 in the second innings to bring his match tally to 11 dismissals. Set 479 to chase in the second innings the English side played bravely in the last five sessions to earn a draw. In a rare honour Russell was the joint Player of the Match with his captain Mike Atherton; perhaps the only instance in Test cricket where such an award was given for fielding efforts alone.
Image Credit: Mike Prince