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Knott in winter

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

Ivo Tennant

December 17, 2012

Comments: 25 | Text size: A | A

Alan Knott bats, England v India, third Test, The Oval, August 19, 1971
Knott bats at The Oval in 1971, with one of the other leading keepers of the age, Farokh Engineer, behind the stumps © Getty Images
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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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Posted by CricketCoachDB on (December 20, 2012, 0:45 GMT)

THE greatest 'keeper England has ever had-and for that reason, when picking an All Time XI, he would get into the side ahead of Prior every time. When comparing the two, you have to remember that batting averages are much higher now, OhhhMattyMatty! Prior's slightly better batting in no way places him ahead of Knott.

Posted by OhhhhhMattyMatty on (December 18, 2012, 20:11 GMT)

I'm not disputing that Knott is a better keeper than Prior (only when standing up to the stumps, when standing back they are of equal ability), but Prior's batting is far greater than Knott's batting. Prior would win/save more games with his batting than Knott's keeping would ever win. FACT! Thus Prior gets in England's All Time Test XI!

Posted by lodd on (December 18, 2012, 7:47 GMT)

His 'keeping is world renowned .....All who know him would say a truly wonderful man ....Enjoy Cyprus , Knotty

Posted by blenheimfs on (December 18, 2012, 7:40 GMT)

OhhhhhMattyMatty, To mention the glovework of Matt Prior and Alan Knott in the same breath is simply to demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the wicket-keeper's art. Prior is hugely improved from where he started when he first took the gloves for England and his batting is extremely valuable but, if he carried on improving until the age of 94, he still wouldn't be half as good as the little man with the sticky tape round his pads.

Posted by Silverbails on (December 18, 2012, 1:04 GMT)

Yep, great article. Agree with Illy's assessment that Knotty was certainly No. 1 in England for wicketkeeping, certainly since WW2. Brilliant wicketkeeper/ Batsman, and a true entertainer of the Kentish crowds. Happy to hear that he's enjoying Life in Cyprus now...M S Dhoni could certainly learn a thing or two about fitness and hand-eye co-ordination from this gentleman...

Posted by Beazle on (December 18, 2012, 0:24 GMT)

No Pettel, as much as I like Bob Taylor , Knotty was an even better keeper.

In fact the best keeper I have seen in 50 years. But in an all time test X1, I would pick the unique Gilchrist for his match turning batting.

Posted by vvvvvvv on (December 17, 2012, 21:49 GMT)

First test I went to aged 10, Knott in the team to stregthen the batting 1981 Old Trafford. We roll the Aussies over for 130 in 30 overs. 2 catches for Knotty and a 50. Wishing him a long and happy retirement.

Posted by Lahori92 on (December 17, 2012, 21:42 GMT)

He was a sight to be hold when keeping to underwood on those tricky rain effected uncovered pitches. I can remember him keeping to underwood against pakistan at lords in 1974 on a damp pitch, he was outstanding.

Posted by Lahori92 on (December 17, 2012, 21:31 GMT)

they don't make wicketkeepers like him anymore. I just wish that he could be employed by ECB in some sort of coaching role.

Posted by peterhrt on (December 17, 2012, 20:57 GMT)

There have been few candidates for the title of best wicket-keeper ever. Ignoring batting ability, as one must when assessing wicket-keeping, historians focused first on the Australians. Jack Blackham was dubbed the best ever by a country mile for a long period from around 1880 until the mid-1920s, when Bert Oldfield took the crown. Immediately after WWII, some placed Don Tallon above Oldfield for glove speed. Englishman Godfrey Evans then eclipsed an ageing Tallon with a series of acrobatic dismissals. More eye-catching than the three Aussies, if not as consistent. By the early 1970s Alan Knott was another candidate, though his habit of standing back to medium-pace drew unfavourable comparisons with Evans and contemporary Bob Taylor. That was soon forgotten as Knott became the clear favourite with ex-players from his time, challenged since only by another Aussie Ian Healy. Keepers from elsewhere have been underrated: Cameron, Kirmani, Bari etc. The best one currently is Sri Lankan.

Posted by OhhhhhMattyMatty on (December 17, 2012, 19:34 GMT)

Great player, but his place in England's all time Test XI is no longer secure, if even his at all. Matt Prior has probably usurped him now. Average of over 43, 30 scores of 50+, 6 hundreds, 2 time Ashes winner (Home and Away), kept superbly in an away series win in India and was part of a world number 1 ranked side. Prior will break all Test records as England's designated keeper!

Posted by   on (December 17, 2012, 16:09 GMT)

I can remember watching Knotty in 70's on TV. He was simply brilliant. However, cricket has changed with eras and scoring rates, and pace and skill of bowlers. You can't compare realisticy the likes of Grout, Marsh,Ames, Knott, Gilchrist,Evans, Engineer, Wasim Bari, Lindsay, Deryck Murray. They all played differing styles and to different paces of bowlers. Each has their merits and everyone will have their own valid opinion as to who is the best. Personal view the best...either Rod Marsh or Godfrey Evans.

Posted by Paracha420 on (December 17, 2012, 14:55 GMT)

Allan Knott simply i would say that cricket have never seen a better wicket keeper then KNott...The gr8 Allan KNott

Posted by   on (December 17, 2012, 12:24 GMT)

Alan Knott was my one true sporting hero, his example encouraged me to play cricket as a wicketkeeper as a six year old. How many of our current crop of cricketers can still do that, encourage kids to participate? James Anderson? Pieterson?

Posted by ananthap on (December 17, 2012, 12:10 GMT)

My 2 bits

Chennai - India. maybe early 1970s. Tony Greig captain of England. Post tea on the first day.England just bowled out by the spinners and now India in to bat. First ball from Geoff Arnold. A bouncer going high above the stumps. Knott leaping up in the air and saving a sure 4 byes. First stunned silence and then instinctive applause he impossible save.

I recall his trademark exercises. Lean and supple able to touch his toes after an hour on the field (just limbering up).

OK

Posted by aus_trad on (December 17, 2012, 12:06 GMT)

Knotty - finest wicket keeper of my time. As it happens, the first full series I followed was the 1970-71 Ashes, when he was at his absolute peak. I've never seen the standard he set in that series matched since: he just never seemed to drop a ball at any stage, let alone a catch. Superb anticipation; wonderful to all kinds of bowling (Marsh at his best was probably as good to pace, but Knott was streets ahead keeping to spin); and, of course, an extraordinarily valuable batsman, equally at home stonewalling to save a match, or playing wonderfully inventive strokes when in search of quick runs. Seriously - one of my all-time favourite batsmen to watch. I can't believe Bob Taylor was better with the gloves, because there is no "better" than perfection. Knott would be an automatic choice in my all-time favourite test team. As to whether he was the greatest of all time...well...people who saw Don Tallon, for one, might argue the point...but again, hard to believe that Tallon was better.

Posted by Simoc on (December 17, 2012, 11:44 GMT)

Alan Knott was an excellent keeper and so much nonsense is written about wicket keeping and trying to compare eras. Adam Gilchrist rewrote the application form and de Villiers is taking the cue. You have to be a test class batsman to cut it in a top team.

Posted by Pettel on (December 17, 2012, 11:26 GMT)

During their careers Bob Taylor was generally accepted as a superior wicketkeeper, Knott getting the gloves as he was a more able batsman, just like nowadays. Of the modern keepers Chris Read is the best gloveman I've seen, the vast majority are just stoppers.

Posted by Rowayton on (December 17, 2012, 9:43 GMT)

I, an Aussie, also think that Knott was clearly the best wicketkeeper I have seen. I was in England in the late sixties and I saw him keeping to Underwood on a very difficult wicket. It was masterful.

Posted by LillianThomson on (December 17, 2012, 9:07 GMT)

A childhood hero of mine.

It's extraordinary that the likes of MS Dhoni can be millionaires today, when APE Knott was twice the batsman and ten times the keeper Dhoni will ever be.

The closest equivalent I've seen in the modern era was Adam Parore of New Zealand, who was a very high-class gloveman and an extremely able batsman.

Posted by   on (December 17, 2012, 8:57 GMT)

what a pity undoubtfully the greatest wicket keeper and is so far away from the game, he should come forward and transfer his wicket keeping art to modern days wicket keepers because they really need to take some lessons from this great glovesman, any how it's great to hear that he is fine may God keep him in good state and some day we might see him in a commentory box giving some useful remarks about the game and specially wicketkeepers.

Posted by Chris_P on (December 17, 2012, 8:01 GMT)

Easily the best I have witnessed & by a fair margin too. You deserve this retreat. Knotty. Enjoy your retirement.

Posted by ygkd on (December 17, 2012, 7:54 GMT)

Of course Knotty's out of touch with the modern game. He will remain the best I've ever seen up at the stumps (Jack Russell came close to that standard when standing back) because the factory's gone into receivership through lack of takers. And that's a pity, because Knotty always put such a high value on taking wickets. Nowadays, it's all about giving the gloves to a young all-rounder when he realises he can't bowl well enough, but by then it's too late. That's why there will probably never be another like him; outside possibly Sri Lanka or Bangladesh (where spinners rule) keeping isn't valued enough to give true glovemen the time to keep while they fully develop their batting, the way Knotty did. And that's a shame, because the game is so much the lesser for his absence.

Posted by landl47 on (December 17, 2012, 6:40 GMT)

A great wicketkeeper and very useful batsman, and a player who never gave less than his best. The story that he never missed a chance is just that, a story, but he missed very few and his gloveowork was immaculate. He was one of those players you always look forward to seeing. Nice to hear that he is well and enjoying life.

Posted by ranpath on (December 17, 2012, 4:50 GMT)

Always enjoyed seeing him on the field. A true keeper...always busy, active and also a pleasure to watch with a bat in his hands. He appears to be yet another legend of the game who has been abandoned on the sidelines. Enjoy your retirement Alan.. you've earned it.

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