Mick Newell considers Chris Read to be the best wicket keeper in England and time and time again, the man himself is asked if he thinks he should still wear the gloves for his country.
And whilst Read has every right to believe in his ability to perform at the highest level, Newell must silently pray that he can retain the services of his influential captain.
Earmarked for international success from an early age, Read played for England ‘A’ before he had even made his first-class debut. Second in the pecking order to legendary keeper Jack Russell during his short stint at Gloucestershire, Read looked for a new county to help him realise his international ambitions.
After securing a move to Trent Bridge eleven years ago, he made his test debut against New Zealand at Edgbaston in 1999 and, in several spells, appeared in 15 tests and 36 ODIs.
Since the retirement of Alec Stewart, no one has managed to make the England gloves their own and Read is keen to make his case by performing on the domestic scene.
“I don’t think England selection is a motivating factor when I’m playing but if I’m performing exceptionally well and they need a wicket keeper batsman then I’m hopeful that they’ll look my way,” says Read.
“I don’t go out to bat or to keep wicket thinking about impressing England. When I’m playing for Notts I’m thinking about winning for Notts and nothing else.
“I trust in my technique and I trust in my ability so I’d like to think that I’ll always be up there as one of the best in England.”
Read has taken time to reflect on his journey from Paignton junior to county captain in recent months and launched his own cricket academy in October.
Keen to repay the Devon youth system which served him so well, he will work alongside Notts team mates Paul Franks and Matt Wood and childhood friend Tim Ward to give Devonshire youngsters access to test level facilities.
“We’ve identified an opportunity to offer kids from Devon the chance to experience Trent Bridge. Hopefully it will work well and we can expand it,” he says.
“My Dad’s cricket mad and he put a bat in my hand as soon as I could walk. I loved it from the off and joined Paignton Cricket Club at six and 11 years later I picked up my first professional contract. I owe a lot to the club and to the Devon youth system and that’s why I’m so keen to give something back. The youth of Nottinghamshire is very well catered for but some of the minor counties can’t offer the same opportunities.
“There’s a strong cricket tradition in Devon and some fine coaches but they don’t have the facilities or the access to players with first class experience. We’re not making any judgment on talent but we’ve targeted players who we think we can improve. They’re at an age where their cricket can really develop and working with county pros can only help them.”
Read had planned to attend university whilst starting out in the game but after an abortive foray on an International Management with German course, his rise to prominence accelerated.
“It was never in the script to displace Jack Russell. Gloucestershire offered me second team cricket on a summer contract and then I was picked for an England ‘A’ tour. The original plan was to play for Gloucestershire in between my university commitments but I didn’t want to stay in education and miss the boat,” says Read.
“Studying just didn’t fit in with cricket. I was due to try again on a Sports Science course but it took a back seat when the ‘A’ tour came about.
“Mark Ealham was on the tour with Nick Knight and Andrew Flintoff and other players that had got their break and were already playing first team cricket.
“Jack was performing fantastically and I knew that I had to make a move and find my own chance. First and foremost, I wanted to find a team that could offer me first team cricket but Notts were interested and I knew that the facilities and the setup were good and that swayed it.”
Championship success followed in 2005 and Read’s growing influence on the team made him the ideal candidate to inherit the captaincy from Stephen Fleming.
He almost made the perfect start by leading Notts to a second placed Championship finish this year and despite coming so close to silverware, Read is rightfully proud of the team’s achievements under his leadership.
“It was an odd season and if we’d have been fourth going to the last game and finished second then everyone would have congratulated us but we had the opportunity to win two competitions and we came away without silverware,” says Read.
“I’ve won one trophy in eleven years and the fact that I could have won two in one year gnaws at me a little bit. Realistically, we need to score more runs consistently in all forms of the game but the bowlers were superb.
“It was only in the last month of the season that I felt the demands of captaincy and realised that it becomes mentally tiring. The challenge for me now is to improve as a captain and to match that with improved playing performances. My form was pretty good this year but not as good as it has been in the past and not as good as I know it can be.
“Stephen Fleming is widely regarded as one of the best international captains of all time and I learned as much as I could from him during his three years but I have to do things my own way. Tactically, I got most of the big decisions right and backed myself. Flem was exceptional off the field as well and I want to emulate that.”
After Fleming’s departure, Ryan Sidebottom’s rise from Notts star to England linchpin and the loss of Jason Gallian and David Hussey from the top four, Read needed wickets and runs from new sources and old heads and, collectively, his team mates stepped up to the plate.
“It’s a good dressing room, no one is shy about putting their opinions forwards and having senior players close at hand is a fantastic help for me,” says Read.
“The make up of the team was quite different this season but I knew what I would get from the likes of Charlie Shreck and Mark Ealham.
“Shrecky performed better than I could ever have imagined and Ealy can be thrown the ball whenever things get a little bit unruly. I knew nothing about Darren but he has been a revelation. He took the burden of the new ball and got good batters out which is a mark of his quality.
“Andre Adams came to us halfway through the season and performed well in all forms of the game.
“Franksy had a hard job because he was in at the start and then he was used as a squad player but he performed when he was called on and helped us to win matches.
“We’ve learned and adapted to play four day cricket without Stuart and Ryan but Samit has become one of our best batsmen and Swanny’s our number one spinner. What impressed me with Samit was that he paid his own way to Bangalore last winter and came back as a different bowler. I put complete faith and trust in him in one day cricket and in the second half of last season he was in the form of his life.
“Everyone is proud and pleased by how well Ryan has done because he didn’t get the recognition until 18 months ago. He’s got a challenge to come back strong in India because he’s been out with the injury for a couple of months but he’s a quality performer.
“Broady deals with it very well and he’s walked into the side already looking like a fully-fledged international cricketer. The way he batted against South Africa at Headingley was awesome. We knew he could bat but that day he was brilliant. The wickets in the one dayer at Trent Bridge also helped him and he will be in the side for years to come.”
Read, reputed to be one of the fittest players at Notts, isn’t one for sitting around in the winter. Aside from running his fledgling academy, he will spend much of the off-season planning his benefit year and pursuing his level three coaching award in between regular gym sessions and appearances for St Albans Hockey Club.
“When you come from the high-pressure environment of professional cricket, it becomes difficult to take six months off without the buzz of competing and being part of a team,” he says.
“People give up time to pursue their passion and it’s good for me to have a grounding in amateur sport. I love the hockey because it’s competitive and we take the training seriously. I try and blend into the background but if decisions need to be made then I’m happy to offer an opinion.
“I’m looking forward to my benefit year but it’s a funny one because in the past it was there to thank county cricketers who had provided a service to the club but I’m well rewarded for doing my job and I’ve got plenty of time left in the game so I’m hoping to help a charity as well.
“Even though I’m away from Nottinghamshire, I’ll still spend time thinking about how what we have to do to succeed in 2009. Winning the Championship takes six months of hard work and you need a lot of things to go your way so we have to build on what we’ve already done. Last season was great but we’d love to go one better and win it.”
With Read at the helm, Nottinghamshire’s prospects appear to be in safe hands.
- This article first appeared in Covered, the official magazine of Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club