December 17, 2012

Knott in winter

Possibly the world's finest wicketkeeper ever now spends his days far from the game in Cyprus

Alan Knott gazes out over the old harbour of Paphos, observing Cypriot and tourist life intermingle and wander by. His hair is now silvery grey, and what with his tinted glasses and waterproof jacket that would appear to be better suited to an altogether greyer seafront at Herne Bay, he is not recognised. In the Mediterranean, he is another British expat.

Knott has created this idyll for himself since choosing to spend more time in the sunshine after his coaching days came to an end ten years ago. It is hard to believe a man whom the best and most exacting of judges - Ray Illingworth, Keith Fletcher and Geoff Boycott - as well as many others believe to be the greatest wicketkeeper in the history of cricket, is no longer involved in the game.

Illingworth, whose respect is sparing and sometimes grudging, says that Knott was "streets ahead of any other wicketkeeper". This is huge praise. In addition, his ability with the bat was such that Knott's successors would have to possess both skills, although few envisaged that, to match his levels of batsmanship, England's selectors would come to place less emphasis on wicketkeeping skills and employ a succession of batsman/stoppers.

"We played some 40 Tests together and I cannot remember him missing one chance," said Fletcher. "Ultimately that is how you judge a wicketkeeper. He sets the standard in the field, and you have to say that India's fielding reflects that MS Dhoni is not very good.

"When Alan played, he not only kept himself very fit but he benefited through a number of other keepers not being able to bat. Farokh Engineer was a good wicketkeeper, better than Rod Marsh, but Alan was the best."

Knott's quick scoring, his batting dependent as it was on a keen eye, nimble footwork, the sweep, the cut and unorthodox pulls, always gave him an edge over Bob Taylor.

There was an infectious enthusiasm about his whole game that was as apparent on a drab Monday at Dartford as at Lord's in high summer. It buoyed his team-mates and the crowd as much as it enervated the opposition.

After Knott retired, having played in 95 Tests - there would have been many more but for him joining World Series Cricket and the first breakaway tour to South Africa and opting out of touring towards the end of his career. He was then employed by the England management as a part-time wicketkeeping coach and assessor of Test cricketers, rarely budging from his position by the sightscreen, basic lunch and fruit carton beside him.

A full-time coaching position never materialised. "I was waiting to hear about an upgrading of my job with the ECB to become their specialist wicketkeeping coach, which I would have accepted. Keith Andrew, who was the NCA's director of coaching, and Micky Stewart and David Lloyd when England managers, all hoped this would happen, but it didn't.

"While we [he and his wife, Jan] were in Cyprus in early 2000, I was informed that the ECB had decided not to go ahead with specialist coaches, and as far as future England coaching work was concerned, they would be in touch. The call never came and so we carried on with our plans to spend more time abroad. We made a decision that, if we could arrange it, we would divide our time between the UK and Cyprus, where we love the warm weather and the lovely beaches."

Fletcher and Bob Woolmer, old friends, asked Knott to coach the wicketkeepers of Essex and Warwickshire, but he has chosen to enjoy himself among the 20,000 expats in Paphos, going dancing, playing tennis and doing his trademark exercises in a swimming pool.

Knott looks extremely fit for a 66-year-old - at a time when old friends such as Woolmer are dead and others, like Tony Greig, whom he rang recently, are ill. But he considers he is too out of touch with the modern game for re-employment. Only on rare occasions, when on visits to his son James, who played for Surrey and is now master of cricket at Stowe School, will he return to Canterbury. Before a dinner to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Kent's 1970 championship triumph, the queue of autograph hunters snaked almost into Old Dover Road.

He and his wife have rented an apartment in Paphos for the past 13 years. They go dancing to the music of his favourite singer, Neil James, at the Frog and Toad, run by an ex-London cabbie. This, Knott says, is no pub singalong venue. "Neil is one of the greatest live singers I have seen - and I watched plenty around the world. He can do anything from Frank Sinatra to Queen."

Occasionally Knott will watch Test highlights at the Aces Bar, enjoying the friendly digs of the Aussie owner. The surprise to him has been how empty the grounds in India are compared to those during his tours in the 1970s.

"Another friend we made in our early days on the island was a British Cypriot who had kept wicket for his school in England. When he was told who I was, he ran across the room to hug me!"

"And when very occasionally I watch one-day cricket, it would appear Test skills are not being encouraged. Whoever would have thought a pace bowler would be congratulated for delivering two slower balls and three full tosses in one over? Wouldn't it be better if all full tosses resulted in a no-ball and free hit?

"I am surprised also that eyesight has not been discussed at greater length. I asked Viv Richards once why he was so good and he just pointed to his eyes. Barry Richards could tell what length a ball would be when it was 18-24 inches away from the bowler's release. I coached talented players but some couldn't quite make the very highest standard. That was because their speed of eye might have been lacking."

Knott was born and educated as a Kentish Man and resided in the county throughout his 21-year career, but even as a young cricketer he wanted eventually to spend some time abroad. He and his wife thought about Gibraltar, Spain and Majorca but ultimately opted for Cyprus for what appeared to be a characteristically eccentric reason - no stray dogs.

Besides, they had holidayed in Cyprus many times, had made friends in the community and relished the climate and the seascape - and the wines. A fellow expat from Kent, and good friend, Colin Smith, who loved cricket, did not recognise Knott until he watched him appear on Alec Stewart's This is Your Life.

"Colin then said to me, 'I always knew it was you', but of course he didn't. Another friend we made in our early days on the island was a British Cypriot who had kept wicket for his school in England. I didn't tell him I once played professional cricket. When he was told who I was, he ran across the room to hug me!"

What saddens Knott more than anything is the passing of old friends. He misses Woolmer, Brian Luckhurst, who came out to Cyprus, and Les Ames, his old secretary/manager and fellow wicketkeeper, "a fantastic man".

"I loved the game, being paid to keep fit and out in the open air, but hardly missed the physical side since the day I retired, and I haven't played since. I was lucky enough to go straight into commentating, coaching and assessing, and to follow my son's progress. My body was telling me it was time to start a new life."

And with that reflection, the finest of wicketkeepers finishes his glass of St Panteleimon - as with his sherry, he likes his white Cypriot wines to be medium sweet - and disappears, still unrecognised, into the tourist throng.

For information on memorabilia and cricket dinners with Alan Knott, please email him

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