Chris Read was the best wicketkeeper in England, but it did not earn him a long Test career. After leading Nottinghamshire to the County Championship, he was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 2011.
In the end it was a bit of a heist. Nottinghamshire may have been leading the County Championship for much of the summer, but by the penultimate day of the season their hopes appeared to be sinking amid the Old Trafford drizzle. Chris Read, the captain of Nottinghamshire, recalls the mood on the third evening of the last round of matches, which would produce one of the Championship’s most riveting finales: “There was a resigned air after two and a half days watching the rain fall in Manchester. Two weeks before we had a 20-point lead. Then we played some poor cricket. We lost two matches and it all seemed to be slipping away.”
On that Wednesday night there was a team dinner, at which all of Nottinghamshire’s options were discussed. Should they try to negotiate a game with Lancashire? Or should they go for the maximum number of bonus points? Read, unlike his senior advisers, always favoured the second course. “It was odd,” he recalls. “The game was on TV and the commentators – with more than enough time for discussion – did not even consider the possibility of us winning the Championship without winning that game at Old Trafford. Of course I had a chat with Mark Chilton [Lancashire’s acting-captain] and Glen Chapple [their club captain], but they were driving such a hard bargain that I thought we would be simply handing the game to them.”
So on that final day of the season – despite the loss of an hour’s play at the start – Read decided upon a headlong pursuit of bonus points in the hope that neither Yorkshire nor Somerset would win elsewhere. As it turned out, neither of them could achieve victory, but still Nottinghamshire, 89-2 overnight, had to race to 400 and then take three Lancastrian wickets to overtake Somerset at the top of the table. “Getting 400 was much the hardest part of that equation,” recalls Read. “Once we had achieved that I was very confident that we would get those three wickets. All season Andre Adams and Darren Pattinson had been so potent with the new ball, and Lancashire had nothing to play for.”
Nottinghamshire had 18 overs to take those three wickets – but it took them only 28 balls. And so, after two seasons as runners-up, Nottinghamshire clinched the Championship by the narrowest of margins – they had the same number of points as Somerset but had won one game more, the first tie-breaker. It was a triumph for one of the country’s more stable clubs, and for one of the more stable captains, who has endured his fair share of disappointments – though usually as a consequence of his experiences at international rather than county level.
Christopher Mark Wells Read was born on August 10, 1978, in Paignton in Devon, for whom he made his Minor County debut at 16. His flair for keeping first became apparent in a fundraising fixture in Torquay between Somerset and a scratch side, which included the diminutive teenager Read and the recently retired Malcolm Marshall. In the first over Marshall bowled, he found a thick outside edge: Read took off like one of the curious seagulls nearby and pouched the ball in the tip of his outstretched right hand. It was a wonderful moment and a wonderful catch, not least for the way in which Marshall beamed and celebrated a vignette of brilliance from a precocious young cricketer.
Read was precocious. After selection for England Under-19s, he went on the England A tour of Kenya and Sri Lanka in 1997-98 after he had made his single appearance for Gloucestershire. At home it then became apparent that Gloucestershire, with Jack Russell no longer required by England, had become a cul-de-sac, so in 1998 Read moved to Trent Bridge.
It was only a matter of time before he was selected for England’s Test team, although maybe that honour came too soon in an international career that has amounted to just 15 Test matches, in three phases. In 1999 he played three Tests against New Zealand, keeping competently, scoring few runs and being memorably bamboozled by Chris Cairns’s slower ball at Lord’s (he ducked it and was bowled).
Four years later he played eight matches in a row before being dropped for the final Test of the 2003-04 West Indies tour, in Antigua, which was a surprising decision. England held a 3-0 lead; Read had kept immaculately throughout the tour, but had contributed modestly with the bat.
However, Read says he was most disappointed by his omission at the start of the 2006-07 Ashes tour. He had kept in the last two Tests of the English summer against Pakistan, and this time he had contributed with the bat. He assumed as he boarded the plane that he was the man in possession, but when Geraint Jones was preferred for the warm-up games in Australia it was obvious Read had been rejected again. He was recalled at the end of the series, but by then his confidence was badly dented. He kept well, but was way out of form with the bat.
For the purists, it seems a travesty that Read, often regarded as the best gloveman in the country, did not play more for England (although there were also 37 limited-overs appearances). “In a way I never felt like an England player,” says Read now. “I never felt comfortable. It wasn’t that I did not feel good enough. But I was never there long enough and never had a central contract.”
For many, Read came to epitomise the strains behind the England team of that era. Rod Marsh was his great advocate, and before long the Australian’s forthright support may not have been that helpful as the relationship between Marsh, at the head of the Academy, and Duncan Fletcher, as England coach, grew ever more hostile. Read himself always maintains a diplomatic silence when asked about his treatment by Fletcher.
Nottinghamshire, however, would benefit from Read’s England exile. Read knew in 2007 that he was likely to captain the county in 2008, so paid special attention to what Stephen Fleming, his predecessor, was up to when he stood next to him at first slip. “That was a fantastic education,” says Read, who tries to follow the same simple principles of captaincy as evinced by Fleming. Neither is the sort of captain eager to pluck a magical rabbit out of the proverbial hat.
The captaincy seemed to enhance Read’s output with the bat. In his first three seasons in charge at Trent Bridge he averaged 42, 75 and 45 in the Championship, often rescuing the innings along the way (his 75 was the highest average by a regular keeper in any Championship season).
In 2010 he stood down from leading in the Twenty20 competition, partly because he was concerned that the frenetic captain’s role was affecting his wicketkeeping in that format. “I love the glovework,” he explains. “I take a real pride in that. If I have a bad session or game I get down on myself far more than if I fail a couple of times with the bat.” There goes the purist, in an age when runs from a wicketkeeper are regarded as more important than silky-smooth glovework.