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Late wobbling balls and a treacherous slope - why Lord's is the hardest ground for wicket-keepers

James Bracey (R) reacts after failing to make a catch on the first day of the first Test cricket match between England and New Zealand  - AFP
James Bracey (R) reacts after failing to make a catch on the first day of the first Test cricket match between England and New Zealand - AFP

For James Bracey on England Test debut, he faced perhaps the biggest challenge that any wicketkeeper has in the English game: keeping wicket at Lord’s.

Batsmen have to grapple with the seaming ball at Lord’s. But keepers not only have to adjust to this but also another particular challenge: how spitefully the ball wobbles through the air after passing the bat.

When England last played New Zealand here, in 2015, Jos Buttler conceded 26 byes, so Bracey could be content to have only conceded seven in New Zealand’s 110 overs up to lunch on the second day. He had only kept once at Lord’s in a first-class game before.

But what makes Lord's so treacherous for keepers? The ground's infamous slope - which runs diagonally down from the Pavilion End, from deep extra cover to long leg - amplifies these challenges for keepers. The slope effectively exaggerates how much the ball moves and can disturb keepers’ balance. Generally, the solution is for the keeper to take an extra step across to the right when keeping from the Nursery End, and an extra step to the left when keeping from the Pavilion End.

Even without the specific challenges that await at Lord’s, the ball in England already seams spitefully. A combination of climactic conditions and the Dukes ball - which is only used in England and the West Indies among nations in the World Test Championship and offers more seam movement than the Kookaburra or SG balls used elsewhere - make England a haven for seam bowlers. Since 2015, the ball seams more in England than in any other Test nation.

Even outstanding wicketkeepers from overseas can initially struggle to adapt. In 1998 Mark Boucher, who ended up with the most dismissals in Test history, had a torrid tour keeping to Allan Donald, who was renowned as one of the toughest bowlers to keep to in England. Donald did not swing the ball much, but the ball would curve off the seam at 90mph.

“You’ve got to know where to stand anyway to cope with the slope, but it’s the late swing that makes you look silly,” former England keeper Alec Stewart said in 2015, during Buttler’s ropey Test. “Jos hasn’t done badly at all, but it doesn’t look that way.”

It can often be this way for keepers at Lord’s.