The wicket-keeper in cricket is the fielding player who stands behind the batsman on strike at the wicket. The role of the wicket-keeper is governed by Law 40 of the Laws of cricket, and is similar to that of the catcher in baseball.
The wicket-keeper's major function is to stop deliveries that pass the batsman (in order to prevent runs being scored), but often he can also attempt to dismiss the batsman in various ways. The most common dismissal effected by the wicket-keeper is for him to catch a ball that has nicked the batsman's bat, called an edge, before it bounces. Sometimes the keeper is also in the best position to catch a ball which has been hit high in the air. The keeper can also stump the batsman by using the ball to remove the bails from the stumps if the batsman has come out of his crease during a delivery. Finally, when the ball is hit into the outfield, the keeper moves close to the stumps to catch the return throw from a fielder and, if possible, to run out a batsman.
A wicket-keeper's position depends on the bowler: for fast bowling he will crouch some distance from the stumps, in order to have time to react to edges from the batsman, while to slower bowling, he will come much nearer to the stumps (known as "standing up"), to pressure the batsman into remaining within the crease or risk being stumped. The more skilled the keeper, the faster the bowling to which he is able to "stand up".
Wicket-keeping is a specialist discipline and it requires training consistent with the level expected of a specialist batsman or bowler. However, the modern-day wicket-keeper is also expected to be able to bat reasonably well, in the middle order at least. Wicket-keepers who are also capable of batting at the top of the order are known informally as wicket-keeper/batsmen.
Since there is only room for one wicket-keeper in a cricket side, selectors (especially at the international level) are often faced with a difficult choice between two or more skilled keepers. Often, one of the two wicket-keepers is an exceptional wicket-keeper, but only an average batsman, whereas the other is a wicket-keeper/batsman who is clearly better at batting, but not quite as good a wicket-keeper as his rival. One such selection dilemma was that faced by England selectors in the 1990s between Jack Russell (the pure keeper) and Alec Stewart (the keeper/batsman). They were never able to consistently choose between the two until 1998, when Russell began to fade: prior to that, they had regularly swapped the role, often with Stewart maintaining his place when not wicket-keeping thanks to his batting skill. Adam Gilchrist, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Kumar Sangakkara, and Mark Boucher are the top wicket-keeper/batsmen today in cricket. Current Indian captain Rahul Dravid is a part time wicket-keeper; playing that role for India throughout the 2003 World cup. Rahul Dravid is the only player who played in all forms of cricket by having runs, catches, stumpings and wickets in both One-Day International's and test matches.
The wicket-keeper may also have a captaincy role. Uniquely, they are usually involved in every delivery of an innings, and may be in a position to see things that the captain misses. They can frequently be heard encouraging the bowler and "sledging" the batsman with well timed comments about their skill, appearance or personal habits.
The wicket-keeper is the only fielder allowed to touch the ball with protective equipment, typically large padded gloves with webbing between the index finger and thumb, but no other webbing. The protection offered by the gloves is not always adequate. The England wicket-keeper Alan Knott sometimes placed steaks inside his gloves for added cushioning. Wicket-keepers also tend to wear leg pads and a box to protect the groin area.
Wicket-keepers are allowed to take off their pads and bowl and this is not uncommon when matches are drifting to draws or a bowling team is desperate for a wicket. Two wicket-keepers have removed their pads and taken hat-tricks in first-class cricket: Probir Sen for Bengal v Orissa at Cuttack in 1954-55 and A.C. (Alan) Smith for Warwickshire v Essex at Clacton in 1965.
England used 4 wicket-keepers in New Zealand's first innings at Lord's in 1986 when the appointed wicket-keeper, Bruce French was injured during England's first innings. Bill Athey kept for the first two overs before veteran Bob Taylor was pulled out of the sponsors tent to keep, immaculately, for overs 3 to 76. Bobby Parks, the Hampshire keeper, was called up for overs 77 to 140 and French returned for the final ball.