ANDREW, KEITH VINCENT, who died on December 27, 2010, aged 81, was recognised for most of his career as the best wicketkeeper in England. This was stated so often in the 1950s and 1960s by small boys and distant newspaper readers that it came to seem more like a proven fact than a matter of opinion. Nonetheless, it was believed by the best judges.
too. "Keith was my schoolboy hero," said Bob Taylor, before pausing. "No, that's not right. Godfrey Evans was my schoolboy hero. When I became a pro, I changed my allegiances." However, Andrew played two Tests to Evans's 91. Beyond question, Evans was a far better batsman (first-class career average 21 v 13), but the undemonstrative style that made Andrew so much admired was a drawback in catching selectors' eyes. He also suffered from the unfortunate circumstances of his Test debut and, perhaps, because he played for put-upon Northamptonshire. But he had a remarkable career as keeper, captain and pioneering coach and, throughout, was one of the most admired and best-loved men in cricket.
An only child, abandoned by his father, Andrew was spotted in a school playground in Oldham and began keeping wicket for Oldham Boys when the previous incumbent was injured. He played in the Central Lancashire League for Werneth, and in 1949 made a brilliant stumping off the Australian George Tribe, then pro-ing for Milnrow, to dismiss Winston Place in a League representative match against Lancashire. This was to prove highly significant four years later, after Andrew had completed National Service, when Northamptonshire were looking for someone to keep to Tribe, their almost unreadable new signing. He was to make another important stumping, Ian Craig off Freddie Brown, in his first major appearance for the county, against the Australians in 1953. More characteristic was his ball-by-ball competence and, when he qualified and became the county's regular No. 1 the following year, he won immediate admiration.
Brown had just retired both as Northamptonshire captain and chairman of the Test selectors, but still had influence at Lord's, which may explain why both Andrew and his team-mate Frank Tyson became shock selections for the 1954-55 Ashes tour before they had even completed their first full season. Tyson came back from Australia a star. For Andrew, chosen as reserve to Godfrey Evans, it was a different story. He got married in the short gap between the end of the season and setting sail, leaving his bride for six months. The captain, Len Hutton, was obviously baffled by his presence, which would not have mattered had not Evans fallen ill on the eve of the First Test at the Gabba. Hutton put Australia in, and in the third over Arthur Morris offered a hard chance off the inside edge - no more than a quarter-chance, according to many observers - which Andrew failed to take. Morris scored 153, Australia passed 600, the England fielding became woefully ragged, they lost by an innings, and Hutton needed a scapegoat. Most accounts suggest Andrew kept well, but the nervous novice did not have Evans's cheerleading qualities, and his moment in the sun was over. "Neat and efficient in an ordinary way," sniffed Wisden as he returned to the county circuit.
But as the years passed, his reputation grew for being neat and efficient in an extraordinary way. "He made it look so easy, just used to catch the ball and send it back," said Bob Taylor, who quickly acquired a pair of Andrew's comfy Australian gloves, with no webbing. "I remember Keith standing up to Brian Crump, who was a nippy little skidder, and he would take it with no trouble at all time after time. That's the hard part, standing up, and he was the master." "I can't ever remember Keith diving," said his county colleague Jim Watts. "He didn't dive. He anticipated." But over the next nine years half the keepers in England got a turn as Evans's deputy or successor before Andrew returned to the Test team. He was chosen at Old Trafford in 1963, a reaction to the scrappiness in the field that had cost England the Ashes the previous winter. England were outmatched by West Indies and, though Andrew was his usual unruffled self, with nine years' more experience, and also proved a sturdy nightwatchman, England rapidly returned to the comfort of Jim Parks at No. 7 rather than Andrew at 10, and to hell with the purists.
So Andrew went back to Northampton, where no one had to be impressed. In 1962, he had become county captain, leading a team on the way up again, and he did an outstanding,if idiosyncratic, job. The young players thought he was dotty, forgetting their names,making bizarre bowling changes. Batsmen were often bewildered as he muttered from behind the stumps: "You don't want to play this fella from the crease," David Lloyd recalled him saying, "you need to get down the wicket." Another stumping, thank you. He could indeed be a bit vague, but it was mostly an act. Instinctively he was a touch defensive (Watts credits him with inventing short third man as a run-saving position). And he thought of everything, including probability theory when related to the toss - and the players' feelings. In 1965 he took the county agonisingly close to the Championship. And all the while his keeping never wavered: he had an eight-match spell that summer when opponents scored more than 2,000 runs without a bye. He retired a year later and moved into coaching. Freddie Brown pushed him to take charge of the north in the embryonic national coaching set-up, and Andrew then became a key figure at Lord's for 15 years, first as national director of coaching and then as chief executive of the National Cricket Association until 1994. He was a devoted, beloved figure in coaching; less predictably, he was also an incisive administrator. His marriage, after its unpromising start, was long and loving, and Keith and Joyce's son Neale became a successful sculptor. And always he believed - article of faith No. 1 - that England should pick the best wicketkeeper without thinking of his batting.