In Keeping With Tradition: A Tribute To Chris Read

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There is a scene in an old episode of The Simpsons where Principal Skinner is addressing a new intake of students and Bart scuppers it by unfurling a banner with the message – “Skinner is a wiener”. The Principal of Springfield Elementary looks up forlornly to the heavens and mutters “you’ve lost them Seymour. You’ve lost them”. He knows immediately that regardless of what he does throughout the school year, they will only ever remember him for this one moment.

It is a bit like that with Chris Read. Except his humiliation didn’t happen in front of a few primary aged kids, but a full stadium and thousands watching on television. Regrettably there are few more public places to be embarrassed than on the 1st day of a Lords test match. Nobody will need reminding of the time he attempted to duck a slowly looping Chris Cairns yorker, only to see the ball crash into his stumps. You can still see his bemused expression on YouTube, accompanied by 290,000 hits.

It seems rather cruel to consider, that for many, this will be all that they will remember of Chris Read’s international career. I seem to recall something relatively similar happening to Graham Thorpe, but his temporary misjudgement is masked and obscured by 100 test matches, 6,744 runs and an average that is just a shade below 45.

Read’s numbers, at least at international level, make for less appealing reading. In 15 test matches he passed fifty just once amid a final average of only 18.94. It is the absence of more compelling distractions that leaves Read’s reputation amongst the casual fan exposed; with overbearing emphasis placed on that brief episode at Lords.

It is worth recalling though that Read secured 48 catches and six stumping’s at test level along with a further 43 dismissals in ODI’s, albeit with a similar batting average. He is widely lauded, along with James Foster, as the finest English wicketkeeper of the recent past – one that should have played more tests but for the perception that his batting wasn’t up to the required standard for the modern game. These days received wisdom dictates that a modern keeper must be multi-faceted and earn his place in the team as a batsman by right.

To place this into context, I recently had a healthy discussion on a cricket forum with someone that viewed Alec Stewart as being England’s best keeper of the past 30 years. Perhaps not an outrageous position to adopt, but pointing to a worrying shift in priorities, when the central tenet of his argument was that Stewart averaged nearly 40 with the bat.

This narrow focus on a batting average is as a highly unreliable and flawed method. Winning Test matches, rests on the central requirement that it is almost always necessary to take 20 wickets. On the occasions when the ball bounced off Alec Stewart’s or Geraint Jones’s hands, or they groped air attempting a sharp stumping chance, how we regretted the absence of a Jack Russell or Chris Read.

In another era it is almost certain that Read would have gained more international recognition. For example, Godfrey Evans in an illustrious 91 test-match career averaged a mere 20.49 with the bat. Statistics that were little bettered across his entire first-class career where he averaged just 21.22. More recently Bob Taylor could only muster an average of 16 in 51 test-matches. A limited achievement he could not better in the county game.

In the dim and distant past, Sir Jack Hobbs old friend and Surrey teammate, Herbert “Struddy” Strudwick averaged below ten in a 28 test career, and would routinely frequent the lowest spot in the order. His capabilities with the gloves taking full precedence over his obvious batting limitations.

The thing that unites all these legends, notwithstanding their obvious prowess behind the timbers, is that their test batting statistics were remarkably consistent with their overall first class figures. Read, conversely, averaged upwards of 37 in the county game. He might have ultimately found his feet with the bat at test level if only the selectors had more faith in him.

But let us not dwell on the banalities of mere figures and the might-have-beens. They rarely tell the full story, and this is especially evident when considering the career of the Nottinghamshire man.

Quite a few years back I got to play a tour game in Chris Read’s hometown of Paignton in Devon. It was mostly memorable for a steam train that methodically clattered into the station that was positioned just a stone’s throw from the boundary edge. Not surprisingly the cacophony was soon followed by a blanket of steam that wended its way from the boundary edge and followed a haphazard path out into the middle.

The scene itself was like something from E.A. McDonnell’s “England, their England” and would have had Henry Blofeld or Michael Portillo salivating or at least – hopefully – lost for words. The other most memorable thing about Paignton Cricket Club was how much everyone wanted to talk about Chris Read.

This was the club where Read’s cricketing journey began and everyone spoke well of him.  From the wily old veterans, some of which had probably coached him in the nets as a junior, and the young Colts who had perhaps only seen him on the television. Everyone you met there, sooner or later would refer to Chris Read, as a direct consequence of their justified pride in him.

When he called it a day last week, he sent out his thanks on Twitter to Paignton, Devon and Nottinghamshire Cricket clubs. Despite a single appearance for Gloucestershire early in his career and international honours with England, these are the only clubs that Read has represented.

In an increasingly transient and fast buck chasing game, Chris Read’s career path could easily have been plucked from the earlier era of Taylor or even Evans. Despite, his decent performances in domestic T20 there are no plastic franchise away-days on his CV. Instead, there is just the solid upwards grind from club, to Minor County and ultimately Championship level.

Read is the classic example of what cricketers used to look like. Devoid of celebrity his career has largely passed under the radar of all but the most educated follower. For these people he is revered as a wicket-keeping purist and a more than capable batsman – one that would meet a batting crisis head on with a quiet combativeness that was no better exemplified than the century he chalked up last week in his final innings. Notts had been 64-5 when he strolled out to bat.

The only thing flashy about Read was his cricket. There was never the faintest chance of skunk-haircuts, Ben Stokes style brawling, or other show-and-tell excesses. A cricket-man through and through he belongs and exists solely within the parameters of the game – one that is rapidly and irretrievably slipping away from the public consciousness.

Read’s departure reminds us of what we once had and what we have lost.

Garry White

@LWOSGarryWhite

13 comments

  • A shame that Alec Stewart is being discussed as the best keeper of the last 30 years. Jack Russell was easily better as a specialist keeper, good though Stewart eventually came. Stewart is massively underrated as a specialist batsman. Without the gloves he averaged circa 46 when he was up against the likes of Ambrose and Walsh, Wasim and Waqar, Donald and Pollock et al. As a keeper/batsman he averaged 34 and it was a sacrifice to try and get more bowlers in the side. Overall it didn’t really work.

    • Agree about Stewart. He could have been one of the greats of English batting only for the selectors to mess about with his wicket keeping. People will never learn.

      • I always thought this at the time. Seeing Stewart at Lord’s taking on Ambrose, skipping half a pace down the wicket and on-driving him to the Allen Stand – that was top-class batsmanship. Making him keep was not a great idea, because of the obvious overload, and it was duly shown in his batting stats, with and without the keeping gloves. But he did actually become one of our most accomplished keepers – not Bob Taylor or Alan Knott, but not far off – and at times his catching was inspirational.

  • A fine cricketer. Perhaps, like Azhar Ali (who I see as perhaps the last ‘proper’ Test batsman), Read (and Foster) are the last of that particular breed of ‘keeper. Just ask Michael Bates.

  • Great article doing justice to a true pro. I was lucky enough to see his last test at Sidney in 2007 (him having been ridiculously dropped at the start of the series along with Monty) and he gave a masterclass behind the stumps. Monty was playing again in that game and from memory he and CR combined to have Warne stumped in his last test. I also think he took five catches. I’ve also been a member at NCCC for several years and it’s difficult to think of a better example to young cricketers. I bemoan the loss of specialist keepers and the game will be poorer when eventually we have nothing but part timers for our kids to learn from.

  • Excellent article Garry. Thanks.

    The Jarrod Kimber article Silk has linked is a truly fantastic piece and required reading on how we might properly assess wicketkeepers. Well worth 10 minutes of anyone’s time.

  • “He is widely lauded, along with James Foster, as the finest English wicketkeeper of the recent past – one that should have played more tests but for the perception that his batting wasn’t up to the required standard for the modern game.”
    Surely a condemnation of the batsmen in the team, whose job is to score runs, rather than of Chris Read, whose role was totally different. Even if he didn’t know which end of a bat to hold, I would always go for the best ‘keeper because that makes it much more likely that the chances offered by the opposition’s beat batsmen would be taken.

  • Along with Read, Bob Taylor and Jack Russell we have had three of the finest wicket keepers of modern times, who would have been international fixtures playing for almost any other country, yet remain largely unknown to the general public. Their dedicated and professional commitment to their craft over long and distinguished careers, where being the best keeper they could be was more important than being a bits and pieces player, so favoured by selectors, saw them overlooked consistently in favour of batsmen who could put the gloves on with respectability.
    I have nothing against the Stewart’s, Jones and Bairstows of this world, but along with most purists I would prefer to see specialists at the highest level. Aattacking test cricket should not be dependant on stocking up the batting or bowling with quantity over quality in any department. The top six have traditionally been the purveyors of runs and nine, ten, jack not thought of as important. Also five front line bowlers were considered enough to bowl sides out. The modern trend of everyone being able to bat and bowl a bit detracts from the specialist making an impact. I feel this has been most felt in the lack of technique and temperament at the top of the order and the demise of the spinner. We now have so many good batsmen down the order even if we lose early wickets there is still enough ammunition to bale ourselves out. The down side of this is we have no specialist spinner, wicketkeeper, or fast bowler, all traditionally non batsmen in the true sense, so we have problems taking wickets on good tracks with these jack of all trades.
    Obviously white ball cricket is a major player here, but there must be room for the traditional specialists even here.

  • What a great game to finish on. Chris Read and I think 4 others got centuries in a veritable run fest. Totally agree with your comments regarding wicket keepers but as you imply the teams have a batsman who can keep wicket rather a specialist keeper, Alec Stewart being a great example.

By Garry White

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