'Back then, wicketkeepers never worried about scoring hundreds'
Your father, Jim Sr, played his only Test as Len Hutton's opening partner, in 1937. What do you remember about that game?
It was Hutton's Test debut, against New Zealand. My dad was Hutton's first opening partner. Hutton got 0 and 1 and had a long and distinguished Test career. Dad outscored him, got 22 and 7, and took three wickets, but never played for England again.
Did you watch much cricket as a young boy?
It was that same year, 1937, that I started watching cricket. I was five years old and my grandmother used to take me down to the county ground at Hove, where Dad played.
The first game I remember was Sussex against the Australians in 1938. Hugh Bartlett smashed the Aussies all over the place to get one of the quickest hundreds I've ever seen. I thought, "That's how you play cricket." Ironically, Hugh was my first captain when I joined Sussex in 1949.
Any other memorable pre-war games?
Sussex's last match before the war was my dad's benefit match. Yorkshire were supposed to come down to play in the Championship, but that was called off when war broke out. Yorkshire still turned out for the benefit match, though, which was good of them.
Did you see your dad play for Sussex very often?
Not really. He finished playing county cricket in 1939.
I remember one game, against Surrey, where he kept cutting Alf Gover over the slips. Dad was quite short and stocky, he cut and hooked a lot.
What sort of player was he?
Everyone always called him solid and steady. But in 1937, he changed his style. My mother had died the previous winter, and according to John Langridge, who opened the batting with him, Dad completely transformed his approach. Langridge was still playing when I started in 1949, and he told me that Dad just went out and smashed the ball everywhere. That year, he had 3000 runs and took 100 wickets with his slow-medium bowling. That record will never be broken.
Your uncle, Harry, was quite a good player for Sussex too, wasn't he?
He finished in 1948; I started in 1949. He was a strong player, a batsman who slogged it. Before the war, Sussex batted him in the middle order. After the war they moved him up to open with John Langridge. Lovely person, Harry. He was a flight lieutenant during the war.
What do you remember about life during the Second World War?
I remember counting the German bombers as they flew over the south coast, towards London. Sometimes there were 150 of them. My dad was too old to join the armed forces. He was a policeman and moved up to Lancashire towards the end of the war. He played a few Lancashire league games for Accrington, as a professional. There he became good friends with Learie Constantine. Learie was working for the Ministry of Labour. He was a real flamboyant character. I never saw anybody hit the ball as hard or as far as him. After the war, Learie got me out to Trinidad to do some coaching.
You played for the air force team after the war?
For one season, while I was doing national service. Those games against the army and the navy, we had a really good team. Fred Trueman, Fred Titmus and Ray Illingworth were all in the RAF side.
Brian Close was your last captain, at Somerset. He started playing one year before you, in 1948. What was he like as a young player? Closey, when he started, bowled really quickly. He was fearless, even back then. He had so much talent that he could have played a hundred times for England. But he had a reputation for arguing with the wrong people, and so England only picked him 22 times.
Who was your hero growing up?
I didn't want to be a wicketkeeper when I was younger. I was more interested in batting. Denis Compton was my hero. I first saw him play against Dad, who played for the combined police and fire services team during the war. Compton was in the army team. He played all the shots, improvised, ran down the pitch. On a bad wicket, his technique was perfect. When it was difficult, he straightened everything up.
What was it like playing against him?
Denis played the finest innings I ever saw, in 1955. It was at Lord's, and with Middlesex due to bat, he was late and still in his civvies on the balcony. But it was a wet wicket and Middlesex were two wickets down for just four runs. Denis was in at No. 4 and we had to wait ten minutes for him to get ready and get onto the field. When Middlesex were finally out for 206, Denis was the last man out for 150. On a really dodgy wicket, he smashed it. The next highest score was John Warr, who got 13. When I made my Test debut against Pakistan, Denis was in the England side.
Didn't your dad come back to Sussex in the mid-'60s to do some coaching?
He was there for a year, in 1966, and then in 1967 he suffered a stroke. He got over it but was never the same again, and his career in cricket was over. Back then coaches looked after the second team and the young players. The first team looked after themselves. So I didn't see that much of him.
When you were growing up, were wicketkeepers expected to score runs?
Back then, wicketkeepers never worried about scoring hundreds. Their work behind the stumps was more important. They'd bat down the order at nine or ten. Arthur McIntyre and Roy Swetman were wicketkeepers who might occasionally put together a score. Godfrey Evans was no mug with the bat, but he averaged only half what would be expected of today's keepers. Catch Bradman or George Headley for a low score and your team had a head start. Miss a stumping off one of these greats and you were in trouble.
What was it like playing on uncovered wickets?
It was difficult keeping wicket, especially when you stood up to medium-pacers. You would do that to keep the batsman back in their crease and maybe get the chance of a stumping. Godfrey Evans was the absolute best keeper I ever saw. He could even stand up to Alec Bedser on a wet wicket.
It was difficult for the batsman too, with the ball flying around all over the place off a length. I remember seeing Derbyshire's Les Jackson and Cliff Gladwin bowling at Hove on a wet wicket. They were unplayable.
Who inspired you to be a wicketkeeper?
No one, really. It came about by accident. I didn't keep wicket at the start of my career. I was a specialist batsman. A couple of years after that, Sussex were playing against Essex in a Championship game at Chelmsford, when our wicketkeeper, Rupert Webb got injured. There we were in the Chelmsford dressing room before the start of play and we suddenly realised we've got no wicketkeeper. Robin Marlar, the Sussex captain, looked at me and said "You're doing it". I didn't have any kit and so had to borrow Essex keeper Brian Taylor's gloves.
How did that first game behind the stumps, go?
My body was trained to run around in the outfield. I wasn't used to jumping up and down 600 times a day. After the game, I was so stiff I couldn't play for a week. It took a while to get used to wicketkeeping. After that game, I started a new exercise regime to loosen up my lower back and legs. It's nothing like they do today, though. Just a few minutes stretching before matches.