Why footwork is overrated when keeping wicket

At Trent Bridge, Rishabh Pant dropped Jos Buttler on 1 and the batsman went on to make his maiden Test hundred Getty Images

I was recently asked for my opinion of Rishabh Pant's wicketkeeping. One of the things I spoke about then, apart from his good glovework, was how little he moved - which is the correct approach for English conditions. In general - and don't be shocked when I say this - footwork in keeping is overrated.

Don't get me wrong. Footwork is essential and an important facet of wicketkeeping, but the question is: how much and when should you move your feet? Since childhood I've been told about the importance of footwork and how good keepers never dive but rather just glide to the ball. "The less you dive, the better you are," I was told. That couldn't be further from the truth.

Like batting, with keeping too, it's your hands that will do the job. What footwork does is get you in good positions to catch or play the ball.

The problem with moving too much comes to light when the ball deviates from the predicted path - for example, when it takes an edge or if it changes direction after pitching, as it does when spin bowling is involved. If the keeper is on the move when the ball changes its predicted path, by the time he stabilises himself and reacts, it's often too late.

There are two critical phases when the keeper has to be stable - when the ball is pitching and when it is passing the bat. These are the two times when the ball is most likely to deviate. It is important to stay still, with a strong, stable base, at these times, to give yourself the best chance of reacting to likely changes.

Jos Buttler being dropped by Pant at Trent Bridge is an example of the keeper being on the move when the ball was edged. By the time Pant could stabilise and move, it was too late. (It was a tough chance, though.) If you take these two phases out, there isn't much time to move anyway, be it before the ball pitches or after it passes the bat.

The big argument for footwork is that it lets you cover a lot of ground. But how much ground does a keeper really need to cover for a seamer? On the off side, one would expect the keeper to reach till the first slip, and on the leg side a little bit more. First slip is about half a body length, so roughly one shuffling step away, or a dive. On the leg side, it's a step, then a dive - or another shuffling step or thereabouts. That is all the footwork the keeper needs. And that's all he will need, if he moves after the ball has passed the bat .

Two of the best examples of not moving too much I can think of are MS Dhoni and Wriddhiman Saha. Against seamers, Saha doesn't squat fully. He stays still in a half-squat till the ball passes the bat. It is the same with Dhoni - his movements are minimal and his hand-eye coordination is among the best that I've seen. His keeping looks unorthodox but his basics are extremely good and solid: he stays still for as long as possible, keeps watching the ball till the last moment, and backs his hands to do the rest. At times, he and Saha catch the ball like outfielders, with one knee on the ground (or "long-barrier", in cricket parlance).

Another argument in favour of the keeper moving is the concept of catching the ball inside the body - that is, catching it between the body and the line of the stumps - promoted by a lot of coaches and pundits. This originated, if my memory serves me right, in Australia.

The carry and pace of Australian pitches means the keeper has substantially more time, because he is further back from the stumps, to take an extra step on either side. It's not the same on low and slow pitches, like you get in the subcontinent. The reason I'm not a big fan of catching the ball inside the body is that theoretically it sounds good but it isn't practical on most pitches. I must add, though, that I do encourage catching on either side of the body - just to make sure the hands have enough room to move.

Catching depends a lot on eye-hand coordination. The eyes are like cameras - the more you move, the more blurry the picture. For me, the best way to capture a moving ball is to stay still. The hands will catch what the eyes can see.

Though wicketkeeping is an important aspect of the game - and a tough one - unfortunately it does not get the attention that batting, bowling and fielding in general do. As long as the keeper is catching them, it's fine, but if it goes wrong, "his basics are wrong", as someone said to the media about me once. Sounds funny now but trust me, it wasn't at the time! Due to this lack of airtime in the public discourse for wicketkeeping, discussion of it remains somewhat caught in a quagmire of age-old clich├ęs and half-baked knowledge. I would like to see more people getting involved in the conversation and delving deeper into the thankless job called wicketkeeping.