Essex keeper Wheater enjoying close-up view of spin king Harmer
- Credit: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo
Standing up to the stumps, Essex wicketkeeper Adam Wheater has a unique insight into the mysteries of Simon Harmer’s prolific wicket-taking prowess.
Harmer took another 14-wicket haul in Essex’s Bob Willis Trophy victory against Surrey this week, with Wheater contributing a smart stumping to underpin the off-spinner’s figures.
“At the start, when Harmy first arrived, I found it incredibly tough keeping to him and it was a big learning curve,” said Wheater ahead of Saturday’s trip to Hove to take on Sussex.
“It’s not easy, believe me. I’m a foot away from the batsmen and they’re having trouble.
“You’ve certainly got to embrace wicketkeeping to Harmy because it’s hard work, but it’s challenging and rewarding. You’ve got to understand that there’s going to be some good days and there’s going to be some bad days. He’s certainly making me strive to be a better keeper to make sure all those chances are taken.
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“Luckily, he’s not a mystery spinner in terms of the googly, the slider, a toppy or whatnot. So you know what’s coming down. Whether I can predict the exact bounce or the amount of spin is hard to tell. It depends on the wicket we’re playing on. But, yeah, I can pick him, but whether I can catch every ball off him is another question.”
From his close-range position Wheater can almost sense the nervousness of the batsmen.
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“Sometimes you think, ‘Bloody hell, he’s working Harmy out’, and then he’ll have a rush of blood and play a rash shot and he’s out,” he added.
“Other times you think, ‘This guy won’t last long’, especially if he’s a tail-ender, and he’ll play him quite well. I think we know with his lines and lengths that there are rarely bad balls, and that can bring on that rush of blood.
“Wicketkeeping is one of those things where you’d prefer to get nought [when batting] than you would drop a catch because of how it can affect the team. You’ve certainly got to make sure you take the chances when they come or you’re going to have an unhappy dressing room.”
In addition to his glove-work, Wheater has started the season with greater reliability and responsibility with the bat. In his four Bob Willis Trophy innings to date he has accumulated 148 runs, including a half-century against Surrey, a tally only just short of his Specsavers County Championship aggregate for the whole of last year.
“I had a particularly poor season with the bat,” admits Wheater of 2019, having spent the winter pin-pointing and correcting the problems with batting coaches Tom Huggins and Barry Hyam.
There was mitigation for the downturn, though, as he added: “I suffered a really bad broken thumb at the start of last year. I had no power in my bottom hand and no trust in my thumb, which is quite a key point.
“You rely on your bottom hand for strength and I just felt like I had no strength at all and I couldn’t bat the way I wanted to bat. Then it becomes a mental game.
“But I was pleased with the way my wicketkeeping went last season, which is strange because you’d think the injury would have had more of an impact on that. So there was a silver lining of sorts.”
The effects of lockdown, coupled with “the huge honour” of receiving his Essex cap a week ago and the imminent arrival of his first child with wife Lauren have given the 30-year-old Wheater a new perspective on life.
“Lockdown solidified that I wanted to play cricket for a long time and I had to work out how best to go about that,” he said.
“So while I was at home twiddling my thumbs it gave me a chance to rejig my mental side. It gave me clarity to see how lucky we are as players and how it’s important to appreciate that and enjoy every day.
“The arrival of the baby is just four weeks away now and that’s certainly changed things. You don’t want to be out of work and unable to provide for your family. It’s certainly changed my thought process as far as looking forward and making plans for the future.
“When the day does come that I am no longer playing cricket, there are things in place which will make the transition slightly easier.”