In 2002, the former Australian wicketkeeper Rodney Marsh said Chris Read was the best English stumper he had seen since Alan Knott, and a far better keeper-batsman than Marsh himself at the same age. Read went on to play just eight more times for England and has barely warranted a mention since his last Test almost four years ago.
If Nottinghamshire, whom Read has captained since 2008, go on to win the County Championship later this week (they go to Old Trafford tomorrow to face Lancashire in the final round of Division One games with just a two-point lead) it will be one of the more dramatic, although curiously rather quiet, tales of sporting redemption.
"Unfairly treated" is a phrase so often used these days that one tends to dismiss it. But Read genuinely suffered at the hands of selectors who, on the Ashes trip in 2006-07, were split as to who should guard the timbers. In the Read camp was the former chairman of selectors David Graveney and former Academy director Marsh. And then there was the coach, Duncan Fletcher.
"Going on to the plane I honestly felt as if I was England's No 1 keeper. I hit 55 during the last Test at The Oval in 2006 [against Pakistan]."
So, what was the problem? Ever the diplomat, Read smiles, like he wants to tell all. "Rod Marsh, one of my main mentors, was always going to back me. Fletcher didn't want me and, what can I say, he was coach."
After England went 3-0 down in Australia, Read, who had not played any serious cricket for four months, suddenly found himself walking out to bat in front of 96,000 at the MCG. Naturally, he floundered. "I was horribly out of nick. All I'd had was a couple of nets," he says.
The Fifth Test at the SCG in 2007 was the last time England picked him. But that wasn't the last of it. Read was singled out for criticism by Fletcher in a score-settling memoir. Contrary to Marsh's assessment, Fletcher thought Read's keeping was flawed, and his batting lacked defensive technique. Much worse was the implication that Read was too timid mentally to be a Test cricketer.
Read's own form has been outstanding since 2007 (he has averaged 45, 55, 75, and 50 in the past four Championship campaigns). "It sounds sort of arrogant to say it, but there have been times when I just know I'm going to score runs. I know my own game inside out. My keeping, which in most people's eyes is my stronger suit, hasn't dropped off either."
I played alongside Read when he was a youngster in Devon. I remind him of what he was like back then. Quiet as a mouse, unfailingly polite. Except when he was notching up hundreds for fun. I haven't seen him for 15 years. So how did he become a county captain, which seems to be an extrovert's job?
"I learnt a lot from [former New Zealand captain] Stephen Fleming, who was skipper when we won the Championship in 2005. He was as laidback as it's possible to be without falling asleep. I'm still not much of a shouter, Fleming taught me that you don't need to be."
So is he still bothered what the selectors think? "Matt Prior has set immensely high standards, and good luck to him, he's a fantastic cricketer, but you don't just give up. Anyway, Alec Stewart was 40 and still keeping wicket for England, so why not?
"I'm not really that intense about England, and that's helped my game: being captain, and focusing totally on that. Notts is what I call the day job, and if we win this title, it will mean everything. The culmination of 12 years' hard labour standing behind the stumps. But I also have other things going now. I'm patron of Bowel Cancer [one of Read's mentors in Devon died of the disease] and my second child is due in January."
Read swells with pride when speaking about his team. "It's one of the best sides I've played in. Andre Adams has been amazing with the ball. Steve Mullaney, a young all-rounder, has a great future. Samit Patel can still play for England. And then there's the older brigade, myself, Paul Franks, Ally Brown. Two players, a bit like me, who could have played a lot more for their country if things had turned out differently. County sides don't get much better than that."
Read is weary after keeping all day. "Pint?" he asks, as I turn off the tape. There's a few Notts players in the members' bar, proof that not all the amateurish traditions of county cricket have succumbed to modernity.
"Now what do you really think of Duncan Fletcher?" I ask. "Not a chance," he says, smiling, wiping Guinness from his lips. "Not a chance."Reuse content