Keeping Strong: Giving keepers the attention they deserve
The role of being a wicketkeeper is far more than just catching the ball. As well as doing the obvious (catching the ball), they have to be switched on for every ball unlike some fast bowlers daydreaming at third man! Despite being switched on for every ball, the chance that they are actually called into action is pretty slim. In fact, research shows that Wicket-Keepers are involved in 21% of match activity (Macdonald, Cronin and Macadam 2018). On top of this, they have the role of being the energy source for the entire team, buzzing about and usually making a racket. If that wasn’t enough, keepers are now expected to be a top-order batsman. In essence, the wicketkeeper is the heartbeat of the cricket team. In order for that heartbeat to be strong, the wicketkeeper has to be ready to perform physically.
Below, we will break down the different facets of a wicket-keeper game and understand the physical requirements behind each part!
The best starting point to assess for any wicketkeeper is mobility. If mobility is an issue, getting into a comfortable stance is going to be practically impossible. Let’s take a look at what makes a good squat pattern possible in order to hit the ideal “Z-position”:
- Ankle mobility
In order to hit a good squat depth, we need the knees to move at least over the toes. This is known as ankle dorsiflexion. It is common for this range of motion to be poor, partly because modern-day footwear negates the need for it to exist. Large heels trick the body into achieving ankle dorsiflexion. Run this experiment yourself. Try squatting with your heels on the floor and then pop something under your heels and you will be able to squat a lot deeper. So, when training in the gym, it is good practice to squat barefoot if you can and get used to your ankles accepting load whilst being dorsiflexed.
- Hip mobility
A good squat requires the hips to be mobile. If you have rusty hips, then a squat will just be uncomfortable. Tight hips are also a common byproduct of the modern lifestyle where we spend the majority of our day sitting down with our hips flexed. This causes the hip flexors to become short and tight, shifting our pelvis into anterior pelvic tilt. If you squat with a large degree of anterior pelvic tilt then you will experience lower back pain whilst squatting. So, work on your hip mobility and give your body the opportunity to squat pain-free!
- Thoracic mobility
The final part of a really good squat pattern is not being rounded through the shoulders. Our body is amazing at producing compensatory movement patterns to achieve a goal. In the case of a squat, to achieve a ood depth, a lot of people will round through their shoulders. Not good in the long run! To fix this, we want to work on our thoracic extension mobility so that we can pin our shoulders back and maintain a good, strong posture.
Lateral movement is the sexy part of being a wicketkeeper. Shuffling side to side and diving to take match-winning catches. This is where strength, power and agility come into the equation. We need wicketkeepers to be strong through their lower bodies in order to put all that force into the floor and push off powerfully to take those catches. Change of direction abilities also needs to be trained with wicketkeepers using a drop step technique mostly to open up their hips and shift sideways.
Accessing awkward catching positions
Thoracic rotation is a physical quality of a wicketkeeper that often flies under the radar. Reacting to deflections of the bat/body or turn & bounce of the pitch is what often separates a good keeper from a great keeper. This results in the ball often ending up just under either armpit in a really awkward to access catching position. There isn’t enough time to adjust your feet so the only way to present a large catching space is to rotate through your upper body. If thoracic rotation is an issue for you, due to tight muscles in your upper body, this movement will be very difficult, let alone under speed. Therefore, it isn’t just the lower body that Wicket-keepers need to train.
Being the heartbeat of the team
Maintaining energy throughout a whole innings is important for wicket-keepers for a number of reasons. The first, is to keep the rest of their team going! If the wicket-keeper goes flat, rest assured the rest of the team will follow. Secondly, and more importantly, if energy levels sap, then the likelihood of mistakes creeping in will increase. To maintain energy, it doesn’t mean you have to become an endurance athlete, don’t worry. The more efficient you can be in everything you do, the more energy you will have at the back end of an innings. Being efficient means being strong and mobile in the aforementioned movements so that you aren’t spending pointless energy.