Keeping wicket for England in international one-day cricket and scoring sufficient runs is, it seems, an awfully tricky task. It must be if Matt Prior, England's Test wicketkeeper and one of the most successful keeper-batsmen to have played that form of the game, is not occupying the role.
He has had his chances, and another opportunity cannot be fully ruled out, but for now the responsibility falls to Craig Kieswetter. And, rather unsurprisingly, with it comes a baleful spotlight that refuses to dim or divert its attention. A laboured innings of 18 in 38 balls (he scored just one run from his first 19 balls) in the second one-day international in Kochi, displaying a well-known difficulty in manoeuvring the ball around against the spinners, has again raised questions. And not least because Jos Buttler, his Somerset colleague who took his place in the England Twenty20 side as wicketkeeper before Christmas, is sitting on the sidelines here.
Kieswetter previously opened for England, and that is where he bats for Somerset. Buttler is far more accomplished in the middle order. But the truth is that on Tuesday Kieswetter arrived at the crease with the England innings spinning as sharply as the Kochi pitch. Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan, their two most dangerous one-day batsmen, had fallen in the same over. England were 73 for four in the 15th over chasing 286 to win.
It would have taken a miraculous innings to win the game from there. And there had to be a period of rehabilitation, as assistant coach Richard Halsall stressed yesterday (Thursday), saying that Kieswetter "sucked up that pressure when we had just lost Pietersen and Morgan. And the partnership [of 37] he was beginning to put together with Joe Root was promising. He held his nerve when everyone watching was saying, 'What's going on here?' But to come out the other end I think he will be disappointed that he then got out."
It is a feature of many of Mahendra Singh Dhoni's one-day innings that he begins with circumspection and then explodes later, as he did in
making 72 in Kochi. And Kieswetter can explode. I once asked Andy Flower why he so liked Kieswetter as a batsman and he replied: "Because he can hit the ball out of the park."
And that is what he did in the first ODI in Rajkot in putting on 70 in just 37 balls with Samit Patel at the end of England's innings.
"If you think of a couple of games ago how he and Samit finished that innings, people have short memories," said Halsall. "It is hard for him, but international sport is hard. If it was easy, a lot of people would be doing it."
Though Buttler kept in those T20 internationals before Christmas, I understand that the England management do not yet consider his wicketkeeping to be at the requisite level to keep for 50-over in international cricket. It can be good enough, of course, but that will require plenty of match experience. So Somerset might have a problem, with two England wicketkeepers wanting to keep.
England face India tomorrow in the third match of the series; the first international match at the JSCA International Stadium in Dhoni's home town. To say anticipation is keen is a huge understatement. England expect Tim Bresnan to be fit, and will join up with Stuart Broad when they move to Chandigarh on Sunday.
India (probable): G Gambhir, A Rahane, V Kohli, Yuvraj Singh,
S Raina, *†M S Dhoni, R Ashwin, R Jadeja, B Kumar, I Sharma, Shami Ahmed.
England (probable): *A Cook, I Bell, K Pietersen, J Root,
E Morgan, †C Kieswetter, S Patel, T Bresnan, J Tredwell,
J Dernbach, S Finn.