August 4, 2013

Sussex's smiling keeper

You can't keep Jim Parks out of cricket. At 81, the former England wicketkeeper-batsman retains his love for the game that first struck him at the age of five

Jim Parks was wearing a name-tag at Australia's tour match in Sussex last weekend. He needn't have been. The beaming smile was identification enough. It's the first thing you notice in portraits of Parks from his playing days and it jumps out just as much in person. This is a man who loves being around cricket as much at 81 as he did at 21.

Or, for that matter, at five. That's how old Parks was when he first remembers setting foot on the County Cricket Ground at Hove. It's easy to pinpoint the year, 1937, because that was the summer that his father, Jim senior, recorded a double that has never been matched and never will be: 3000 runs and 100 wickets in a first-class season.

His father played his one and only Test that year, against New Zealand at Lord's as Len Hutton's first opening partner. Parks didn't see that match but did travel to Lord's often during World War II to watch Jim senior play. The cricket bug bit young Jim and never let him go.

"My father was too old to go into the services," Parks says. "He was in the police force and they played the Services at Lord's and I used to go up there to watch. I saw Denis Compton for the first time and he was my hero. That's how I got into cricket."

Compton was still part of the England side when Parks made his Test debut as a specialist batsman at No. 6 against Pakistan at Old Trafford in 1954. Like his father, Parks looked like he might become a one-Test wonder, especially after he was flown home from a tour of South Africa in 1956-57 having been hit in the head at training.

But his cricket career changed direction unexpectedly at the behest of the Sussex captain Robin Marlar, when the county's long-serving wicketkeeper, Rupert Webb, was nearing retirement with no obvious replacement. Parks, renowned as a fine fieldsman, suddenly found himself with a new role.

"I remember all the players sitting around the dressing room and looking around, and there was no wicketkeeper," Parks says of a match against Essex. "Robin Marlar simply came to me and said 'you're keeping'. I didn't have any gloves or anything. I had to borrow Brian Taylor's gloves - he was the Essex keeper - so that I could keep wicket. I loved it, I really did, because you're in the game all the time."

Not that it was easy; Parks believes his batting at No. 4 suffered due to the extra workload. But the enjoyment he gained from that constant involvement in the game was too good to give up. It also led to his second chance at Test cricket, which came via another set of fortuitous circumstances when England toured the West Indies in 1959-60.

"I wasn't picked for the tour, I was in Trinidad coaching," Parks says. "We were 1-0 up with two Tests to play and Peter May was injured and Kenny Barrington was injured, so I got an SOS to fly from Trinidad to Guyana for the fourth Test. As it happened, Barrington was fit and I was 12th man.

"But then it came on to Trinidad for the last Test and we were still 1-0 up and they played me as a wicketkeeper-batsman. As fate would have it I made a hundred, which set my career up. I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time."

For much of the next eight years, Parks was more or less a fixture in the England team. An effective gloveman and natural attacking batsman, he toured India, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, but nothing was tougher than the challenge of facing Charlie Griffith, who was eventually no-balled for throwing, and Wes Hall.

"I played in four series against Charlie but the worst was 1963 over here, when he just blasted us," Parks says. "We had a very good England side then, but not one England player got a hundred in the whole Test series. He'd blast you. He was lethal to play against.

"I used to come back black and blue. He hit me on the point of the elbow once at Leeds in the Test match there and I've never been hurt so much. Wes Hall was quicker but Wes had this lovely action, he was a beautiful fast bowler. It wasn't very funny playing against Charlie."

The last of Parks' 46 Tests also came against West Indies, in Barbados in 1968. At 36, he broke a finger in that game and was replaced by the young Kent wicketkeeper Alan Knott. Parks went back to Sussex and played out his career there - or at least, he thought he did, until Brian Close convinced him to come out of retirement at 41 and play a few seasons for Somerset.

But Parks remains a Sussex man through and through. This year he was elected president of the Sussex County Cricket Club as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the team winning the first county one-day tournament. Parks was part of the triumphant outfit that won the Gillette Cup in 1963 and looks forward to the anniversary lunch on September 8.

"We have got seven survivors from that team. Four have sadly left us," he says. "I loved one-day cricket. It was my sort of cricket - I used to like to slog the ball a little bit. And we had Ted Dexter as captain and Ted worked the game out quicker than anybody else. That's why we won it."

The original Gillette Cup is on display in the museum at the Hove ground, a museum in which the Parks name features prominently. That's not surprising given that Parks, his father Jim and uncle Harry between them played a combined 1477 first-class matches for the county.

"We kept Parks in the Sussex side for exactly 50 years," Parks says. "My father started in 1923 and the war finished his career. But Harry went on until 1948, and I started in 1949 and went through until 1972, so it was 50 years."

There might no longer be a Parks in the Sussex team but 90 years after Jim senior first played for the county and 76 years after Jim junior first remembers watching cricket in Hove, the family connection remains. And so does the smile.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • chris54 on August 5, 2013, 0:18 GMT

    One of my favourite players. He took to one day cricket lika a duck to water. The comment by the author that "For much of the next eight years, Parks was more or less a fixture in the England team" is a little misleading: On returning from the West Indies, he did play in all five tests against SA in 1960, but was then overlooked for almost three years and 24 tests, as England turned to John Murray, AC Smith, Geoff Millman and Keith Andrew. He didn´t even make it as reserve WK on the Indian tour of 61/62 or the ashes tour the following year. The final snub came when Murray was picked as understudy to Knott in Illingworh`s ashes tour.

  • on August 5, 2013, 16:00 GMT

    Truly a keeper of par excellent, useful batsman at No.6 - played for his country with true spirit against fastest of fast bowlers in the opposition like Hall and Griffith. Before Knott entered the scene, Parks was the best among all keepers of his time in fact the best among his contemporaries from other countries.

  • vaskar1971 on August 5, 2013, 5:20 GMT

    like to read similar article on past year's Indian cricketer

  • clarkac1 on August 4, 2013, 14:37 GMT

    Terrific player. As a fellow wicket keeper I watched him a lot, and enjoyed his keeping and his attacking style of batting. He did a great job for England & Sussex, can't believe he's 81!

  • Guthers007 on August 4, 2013, 12:11 GMT

    Great story! Would be nice to keep read more of these stories while these type of fellows are still around and fit.

  • jw76 on August 4, 2013, 7:28 GMT

    Very interesting article - I love these about all the old players who are still with us. Thanks, Brydon.

  • sdavmor on August 4, 2013, 3:41 GMT

    What a great tale! Kudos to Jim Parks, who I saw keep wicket as a boy...a lifetime ago in his second coming with Somerset.

  • chris54 on August 5, 2013, 0:18 GMT

    One of my favourite players. He took to one day cricket lika a duck to water. The comment by the author that "For much of the next eight years, Parks was more or less a fixture in the England team" is a little misleading: On returning from the West Indies, he did play in all five tests against SA in 1960, but was then overlooked for almost three years and 24 tests, as England turned to John Murray, AC Smith, Geoff Millman and Keith Andrew. He didn´t even make it as reserve WK on the Indian tour of 61/62 or the ashes tour the following year. The final snub came when Murray was picked as understudy to Knott in Illingworh`s ashes tour.

  • on August 5, 2013, 16:00 GMT

    Truly a keeper of par excellent, useful batsman at No.6 - played for his country with true spirit against fastest of fast bowlers in the opposition like Hall and Griffith. Before Knott entered the scene, Parks was the best among all keepers of his time in fact the best among his contemporaries from other countries.

  • vaskar1971 on August 5, 2013, 5:20 GMT

    like to read similar article on past year's Indian cricketer

  • clarkac1 on August 4, 2013, 14:37 GMT

    Terrific player. As a fellow wicket keeper I watched him a lot, and enjoyed his keeping and his attacking style of batting. He did a great job for England & Sussex, can't believe he's 81!

  • Guthers007 on August 4, 2013, 12:11 GMT

    Great story! Would be nice to keep read more of these stories while these type of fellows are still around and fit.

  • jw76 on August 4, 2013, 7:28 GMT

    Very interesting article - I love these about all the old players who are still with us. Thanks, Brydon.

  • sdavmor on August 4, 2013, 3:41 GMT

    What a great tale! Kudos to Jim Parks, who I saw keep wicket as a boy...a lifetime ago in his second coming with Somerset.

  • sdavmor on August 4, 2013, 3:41 GMT

    What a great tale! Kudos to Jim Parks, who I saw keep wicket as a boy...a lifetime ago in his second coming with Somerset.

  • jw76 on August 4, 2013, 7:28 GMT

    Very interesting article - I love these about all the old players who are still with us. Thanks, Brydon.

  • Guthers007 on August 4, 2013, 12:11 GMT

    Great story! Would be nice to keep read more of these stories while these type of fellows are still around and fit.

  • clarkac1 on August 4, 2013, 14:37 GMT

    Terrific player. As a fellow wicket keeper I watched him a lot, and enjoyed his keeping and his attacking style of batting. He did a great job for England & Sussex, can't believe he's 81!

  • vaskar1971 on August 5, 2013, 5:20 GMT

    like to read similar article on past year's Indian cricketer

  • on August 5, 2013, 16:00 GMT

    Truly a keeper of par excellent, useful batsman at No.6 - played for his country with true spirit against fastest of fast bowlers in the opposition like Hall and Griffith. Before Knott entered the scene, Parks was the best among all keepers of his time in fact the best among his contemporaries from other countries.

  • chris54 on August 5, 2013, 0:18 GMT

    One of my favourite players. He took to one day cricket lika a duck to water. The comment by the author that "For much of the next eight years, Parks was more or less a fixture in the England team" is a little misleading: On returning from the West Indies, he did play in all five tests against SA in 1960, but was then overlooked for almost three years and 24 tests, as England turned to John Murray, AC Smith, Geoff Millman and Keith Andrew. He didn´t even make it as reserve WK on the Indian tour of 61/62 or the ashes tour the following year. The final snub came when Murray was picked as understudy to Knott in Illingworh`s ashes tour.