25 years ago today Bruce French left the field of play in a Nottinghamshire shirt for the final time, bringing the career of one of the county’s greatest wicketkeepers to a somewhat premature end.
Born on 13 August 1959 into a cricketing family from Warsop, French played for Notts Young Cricketers in 1974 (alongside his brother Charles, Kevin Cooper and Roy Dexter) before making his debuts for the county’s 2nd XI and the under-25 team the following season.
His 1st XI debut came on 26 June 1976 against Cambridge University at Trent Bridge when, at 16 years and 287 days, French became the youngest First-Class debutant for Notts.
The following season he became the county’s regular 1st XI keeper, and in 1978 French was selected for the England under-19s against the West Indies.
Despite his growing reputation on the county circuit, the presence of keepers such as Bob Taylor, Alan Knott and Paul Downton meant that French had to wait until 1986 for his full England debut.
He played 16 Test matches and 13 ODIs without ever really establishing himself as an England regular. He took 51 catches and four stumpings at international level, while his highest Test score of 59 was achieved against Pakistan in 1987, when he shared a fourth-wicket partnership of 113 with Tim Robinson.
Two memorable performances in a Notts shirt came in the 1980s.
In 1984 he achieved a county record of ten dismissals against Oxford University, while in 1987 his 35 runs off 27 balls in the NatWest Final helped Richard Hadlee to win the trophy in the final over.
French claimed one First-Class wicket as a bowler, Karl Krikken being his solitary victim during a 13-over spell at Derby in September 1991.
French developed an unfortunate reputation of being prone to accidents, illness and injury. He was struck on the head by a ball thrown by a spectator in Pakistan, bitten by a dog while jogging in the West Indies, spent two days of a Lord’s Test match in hospital after being hit by a Richard Hadlee bouncer, and contracted chickenpox during a Test series.
In the latter stages of his playing career he was beset by a viral infection, and he made his last appearances for Notts at the age of 35 in the first half of the 1995 season.
French’s final First-Class match was a County Championship defeat against Gloucester at Bristol, and his last appearance at Trent Bridge was on 16 May 1995 in a Benson & Hedges Cup match against Leicestershire that was rained off without a result.
But his final appearance in a Notts shirt was closer to home, when he played in a 2nd XI County Championship match against Lancashire at Worksop between 19 and 21 June 1995.
By the end of his 17th season with his home county, French had played 324 first-class and 279 List A matches for Notts, taking 994 catches and making 125 stumpings while hitting a total of 8,414 runs.
Having retired from playing, French was able to spend more time on his other outdoor passion of rock climbing, and as England’s first specialist wicketkeeping coach he was credited with improving the glovework of Matt Prior and other keepers.
He also had the honour of presenting his nephew Jake Ball with the seam bowler’s county and England caps in 2016.