Allrounder, No. 11 - Alan Knott February 2, 2007

The stumpy stopper



'No one can remember Knott missing a chance. Whether or not this is hyperbole, there is little doubt that he was one of the greats' © The Cricketer International

While Alan Knott was keeping wicket for England in 65 successive Tests in the 1970s, there was not a gloveman in the world to touch him, and it came as no surprise when Kerry Packer tried to lure him - successfully - into the heady realms of World Series Cricket. But he was not merely a keeper of impish brilliance: Knott was England's lower-order not-so-secret weapon, a batsman good enough to average nearly 33 in 95 Tests and counter-attack with the best of them. Eccentric, a born worrier but with an outstanding cricket brain and a tireless competitive streak, Knott was a world-class all-rounder with a difference.

Achievements
Read any appreciation of Knott from one of his peers, and it seems no one can remember him missing a chance. Whether or not this is hyperbole, there is little doubt that he was one of the greats. Knott was so consistent - and often inspired - behind the stumps, especially to his Kent and England colleague Derek Underwood, that he finished with 1344 first-class victims, which puts him fourth in the all-time list. As a batsman he finished with a higher Test average than later specialists such as Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash, and from the pivotal No. 7 position he averaged 41 and scored all five of his hundreds. What England would give for such riches today.

What makes him special
A combination of alertness, razor-sharp hand-eye co-ordination and reflexes to die for meant batsmen could never take liberties. In his youth, the former Kent and England keeper Les Ames tried to persuade him to work on his fast bowling, but changed his mind when he saw Knott effect three leg-side stumpings in a game for Kent Schools. Little changed, and the same qualities that made him a wicket-taker behind the stumps helped him score runs in front of them. He loved to trust his eye and upper-cut the quicks, and was a masterfully still-headed sweeper, once connecting with 15 sweeps in succession off Phil Edmonds and John Emburey in a county match against Middlesex. Unsurprisingly, his footwork was equally precise.

Finest hour
It came early in his career, but stayed with him throughout. Playing in only his fourth Test, against West Indies at Georgetown in 1967-68, Knott found himself at the crease at 41 for 5 as England tried to bat out for the draw on a sixth-day pitch that would guarantee a hard-fought 1-0 series win. By the end of a day in which 120 overs were bowled, 71 of them by Garry Sobers and Lance Gibbs, Knott was still there on 73, having batted for three minutes short of four hours and coaxed the No. 11 Jeff Jones through the nerve-racking finale. In the pavilion, senior men like Colin Cowdrey and Tom Graveney had locked themselves in the toilets to escape the tension, but Knott remained calm to play what he never stopped regarding as the innings of his career.

Achilles Heel
If he had one, it was not immediately evident. Knott was something of a pessimist, but it rarely seemed to affect his performance. His post-Packer return to Test cricket in 1980 to face West Indies did not go well - he made 36 runs in seven single-figure innings - but when he was recalled for the last time at the age of 35 for the final two Tests of the 1981 Ashes, he chipped in with 178 runs at almost 60, including 70 not out in 167 minutes to save the series finale at The Oval.

How history views him
Since retiring in 1985, Knott has never been regarded as anything less than the apogee of the long tradition of superb glovemen to have kept for Kent and England. He was the precursor to Jack Russell in the Gloucestershire one-day side at the end of the 1990s, earning wickets with his lightning reactions and claustrophobic proximity to the stumps, and a brave enough batsman to take a hundred off the rampant Australians at Adelaide in 1974-75.

Life after cricket
Knott worked briefly with England's contemporary batch of wicketkeepers, but he was always a quiet, religious man who valued his private life more than anything (that was one of the main reasons he was attracted by Packer, who offered him a base in Sydney for him and his family). He now lives in Cyprus.

Lawrence Booth is a freelance cricket writer based in London

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