Should the selectors punt on Cameron Bancroft?

Date: November 14, 2017 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Adam Gilchrist changed the way we look at wicket-keepers in Australia and it has little to do with what he did with the gloves.

In 96 Test matches he amassed 5570 runs, compiled 17 centuries and averaged 47.6. He finished his career with a then Test world record 416 dismissals.

His predecessor, Ian Healy, previously held the record of 395 dismissals. The general consensus is he was a better gloveman than Gilchrist.

With the bat, however, he was vastly inferior – 4356 runs at 27.4 with four centuries in 119 Tests.

Australia’s third most prolific ‘keeper, Rod Marsh (355 dismissals) played the same number of Tests as Gilchrist, scoring 3633 runs at 26.5 with three centuries.

They were both seen as very fine contributors with the bat despite averaging less than 28.

After Gilchrist, those numbers are largely seen as unacceptable.

Gilchrist’s successor, Brad Haddin, averaged 33.0 through his 66 Tests. Whilst it was a far cry from Gilchrist’s mark, it is markedly superior to the two men who have donned the gloves since he retired.

Through 22 Tests, the incumbent Matthew Wade averages 28.6 while Peter Nevill’s 17 Tests have produced an average of 22.3.

After being recalled to the Test side last November – at the expense of Nevill – Wade has played 16 innings, scored one half-century (57) and averaged 20.2. Those numbers have had him under the microscope ahead of this month’s first Ashes Test.

With three rounds of Sheffield Shield matches ahead of the Gabba Test it appeared to be a race in three as to who would be behind the stumps – Wade, Nevill or uncapped South Australian Alex Carey – with all three men having their supporters.

A quarter of the way through the third game the waters are as muddy as they were before the first ball was bowled this Shield season.

Wade, returning to his native Tasmania, has failed dismally with the blade with a meagre 38 runs from five innings. Nevill has batted three times for scores of 20, 32 and 11 not out. Carey has made 12, 4, 36 and 20.

None of the threesome have made a solid case for inclusion. Each has spilled catches as well, further adding to the selection fog.

It provides a quandary for the selectors, especially given the numerous top order batting collapses that have plagued Australia’s Test performances in the last few years.

Matthew Renshaw and Peter Handscomb have done little by way of scores leading into the Ashes series.

Both men – who debuted at Adelaide last summer against South Africa – have struggled to make an impact in Shield ranks this season. Each has batted five times with Renshaw averaging 18.8 and Handscomb 28.8.

Both are expected to play at Brisbane but their modest lead-in form will add further concern to the selectors with respect to the ‘keeping position.

The poor showing by Wade, Nevill and Carey has resulted in another name being thrown up – Western Australian opener, Cameron Bancroft.

He went to stumps yesterday after the opening day at the WACA against South Australia on 161 not out – a chanceless knock until he was dropped off Travis Head’s bowling when he was on 104.

That innings comes on the back of an outstanding match double last start against New South Wales at Hurstville Oval.

He was confronted by the quartet that will form Australia’s bowling attack at the Gabba – Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon.

He carried his bat in the first innings, scoring 76 in a team total of 176 and followed up with 86 in WA’s second innings 223.

Bancroft also kept wickets for the Warriors in that match and by all accounts outshone Nevill behind the stumps. He will keep again in the current match against the Redbacks.

From a rank outsider three weeks ago, he is now very much in the frame for the wicket-keeping role at the Gabba. But, just how big a risk would it be for the selectors to back him in?

Effectively, in recent years, Bancroft has been his state’s third string ‘keeper.

The Warriors’ number one gloveman is Sam Whiteman, a player many have feel is among the very best wicket-keepers in the country.

He suffered a badly broken finger while keeping to Mitchell Johnson in last summer’s BBL final. He has twice undergone surgery and will not play this summer.

In his absence, Josh Inglis was picked for WA’s first Sheffield Shield match of the summer, having made his first-class debut last summer.

He too suffered an injury and for the Warriors’ second game, Bancroft was chosen behind the stumps.

He is no stranger to wicket-keeping, having done so for WA in limited form cricket as well as the Scorchers in the BBL – although often on both accounts when Whiteman was sidelined.

Bancroft made a shock T20 international debut against India at the SCG in January last year. But, in first-class ranks he has hardly been sighted with the gloves on.

The current match at the WACA Ground is Bancroft’s 49th Sheffield Shield match.

It is also just the third time he has been behind the stumps following his performance last week against New South Wales and a stand-in role for an injured Whiteman in March 2016.

The selectors now have to weigh up whether Bancroft should be elevated to the role at Test level. In years gone by it would have been a no brainer.

The thought of selecting a state’s third string wicket-keeper with just three games behind the stumps in 49 Shield matches for a Test match would have been unthinkable.

However, in this post-Gilchrist era it is a distinct possibility.

The wicket-keepers role was long seen as a specialist position where a player was required to do the hard yards for many a year, like Haddin, before getting the nod.

Nowadays, how you handle a bat can be seen as almost as important as to how you glove the ball.

We will find out soon just how the selectors view the country’s wicket-keeping stocks.

Safe to say, we live in interesting cricketing times.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 14 November 2017, soliciting 344 comments