Wicketkeepers who can swing the fortune of their teams with the batCan there be a better sight than the likes of Adam Gilchrist, Kumara Sangakarra, M.S.Dhoni and Mark Boucher striking their wonted form in the 2007 World Cup? They are not just wicket-keepers, watching every ball in action and providing vital inputs to the thinking captain. But, at the same time, they are the custodians of the destinies of their respective teams - with their awesome striking prowess. Each one has a different style and bat at different slots. The methods and means may vary but what their captains should be looking for are the end-results. Consider the break-up of victims behind the stumps too. Gilchrist (376 catches & 46 stumpings); Sangakarra (166 catches & 48 stumpings); Boucher (335 catches & 18 stumpings), Dhoni (61 catches & 12 stumpings). Gilchrist, the elder statesman at 35, is the most explosive of them all. Someone who makes batting look much easier than it appears even in the nets. Essentially a reflex player of the highest order, this Australian holds the key to the success of Ricky Ponting's dream to win a third consecutive World Cup. Kumara Sangakarra is more elegant and technically correct - preferring to caress the ball with emphasis on timing than on bludgeoning the ball. This Sri Lankan is the important cog in the wheel of a batting line-up that revolves around the experience of Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene and Marvan Atapattu. The big advantage with his stylish southpaw is his ability to stay right through the innings, keeping the scoreboard busy with his inimitable strokes through the line. Not surprisingly, this 29-year-old batsman loves to pierce the gaps in the field rather than look for the elevation when he takes on the bowlers.Mark Boucher is most straight bat of the four wicketkeepers. It is a different issue when Herchelle Gibbs was on a song during that record-breaking chase against the Australians, it was this flamboyant cricketer who kept the South Africans in the race with a superbly-paced innings in the crucial slog overs once Gibbs departed. The essence of holding one end up was amply demonstrated during that great chase by 30-year-old Boucher. Then India's Mahendra Singh Dhoni, playing his first World Cup may not delight the purists with his pyrotechnics. But the important thing is he is capable of turning the game around in the space of couple of overs. The theatrics he indulges with the willow, often getting away with some of the most unimaginable unorthodox strokes is something that the best of the bowlers should be scared of. For invariably when the 25-year-old Dhoni is in the mood, they just cannot decide which line to prefer - for such is the pronounced tendency of the Indian dasher-dapper to bat across the line and quite successfully too. What should please his captain Rahul Dravid is his strike-rate, which is the best in the business at a stunning 98.49 after just 66 ODIs. Not often does a World Cup throw up such a wonderful scenario where four main contenders for the Cup have such explosive wicketkeeper batsmen. The career figures throws up some interesting prospects. Gilchrist leads the pack, by coincidence he happens to be the only opener of this rare `breed', with a stunning tally of 126 sixes and 1041 fours from 257 one-dayers. The second best in this category is Dhoni with 62 sixes and 159 fours from just 66 matches. South African Boucher has 58 sixes and 277 fours from 233 matches. That Sangakarra is the more orthodox is evident by the figures that he hit just 25 sixes and 550 fours from 189 matches. Plain statistics which should scare the best of the bowling attacks for a variety of reasons. The strike-rates too are ominous for any bowler - Dhoni (98.49), Gilchrist (96.29), Mark Boucher (82.78) and Sangakarra (74.45). Well, Kiwi stumper Brendon McCullum and Pakistan's Kamran Akmal might just join the party, with the former having an impressive strike rate of 80.32 from 104 matches with 34 sixes and 122 fours in all. By all means, it is not just their acrobatic keeping but also the flamboyance with the bat that will shape the destiny of their respective teams when these `Fabulous Four'. Will the 2007 World Cup witness a wicketkeeper turning around the fortunes of his team - both from behind and in front of the stumps? Only time will tell.
V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM