Being a one-trick pony isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s better to be remembered for one thing than not remembered at all, for a start. Unfortunately, sport is full of people who are remembered for one thing, with that one thing being terrible. If it wasn’t for the fact that we’ve only written about 30 words so far, there would definitely be a picture of Jade Dernbach inserted here.
Football fans of a certain age may well know the name Harald Schumacher, famous for smashing in Patrick Battiston’s face but little else. Although he did once beat Adolf Hitler in a ‘most unpopular man in France’ poll, so maybe he did have a second string to his bow. And music fans of all ages will surely remember the Rednex, purely for bringing the song ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ to the top of the charts. It is literally the shittest thing to happen to mankind ever, worse than World War I, World War II and anything else you could possibly think of. In fact, we dare you to try and think of anything worse.
Our latest Unlikely Lad also suffers from being remembered for one solitary moment. A moment that probably comes up every single time he walks down the street, as people point and whisper before chuckling to themselves and then retreating back into the shadows. Or going to Greggs. No wonder the British public are so bloody obese.
Before we say any more, we should mention that Wells is a great middle name, continuing the fine tradition of the likes of Jefford and Devereux. It’s also the name of a cathedral city in Somerset that we heartily recommend everyone visit, if only to make them feel better about where they live.
With the pleasantries out of the way, it’s time to concentrate on that one moment. In case you’ve never seen it, it’s the moment that Read ducked a slower ball yorker from Chris Cairns during a Test match, losing his stumps and condemning him to a lifetime of being mocked on A Question Of Sport. Had he been hit on the pads and given out LBW, the moment would surely have passed fairly quickly and reasonably unnoticed, with just a bit of laughter at his expense. Instead, the ball squeezed underneath his (now horizontal) pads and rearranged the stumps and the moment was locked into eternity.
Aside from that one moment, the Chris Read story touches upon one of the longer ongoing debates in English cricket: that of the role of the wicketkeeper. For a long time England struggled to decide on what they wanted from the man behind the stumps; was the most important thing his ability to catch, or was it really all about the batting?
The debate seemed to move towards the latter when Alec Stewart replaced Jack Russell as wicketkeeper in the Test side. While not being cack-handed in a Monty Panesar sort of way, Stewart was clearly the inferior keeper but England needed his runs in the top half of the order. As a result, Russell was moved aside. While Stewart did a decent job, there was ongoing debate about his triple role as keeper, opener and captain, culminating in him losing two of those positions in 1999; Nasser Hussain taking over as captain and Read taking over behind the stumps.
With his baby face (not entirely unsurprising for a 20 year old), Read quickly gained the ‘housewife’s favourite’ tag. Quite why housewives would lust after an inexperienced wicketkeeper isn’t entirely clear to us, but that probably says more about our complete lack of understanding of women than anything else.
While Read did well behind the stumps – he took seven catches and made a stumping during his debut at home to New Zealand – he floundered with the bat, making scores of 1, 0 (that dismissal), 37 and 0 again in the series as England lost and slumped to the bottom of the Test rankings. Much to the disappointment of menopausal women everywhere, Read was axed from the Test side, replaced once again by Alec Stewart.
While Read’s chance had passed for the time being, it was only a matter of time before Stewart called it a day and England had to look for a new keeper once again. That moment came in 2003 and Read was recalled for the tours of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the West Indies. By now, England had improved somewhat under the tutelage of Michael Vaughan – they won the Caribbean series 3-0 – and were on an upward curve. Despite Read’s safe hands behind the stumps, his lack of runs remained an issue, with a batting average of 15 still stinking the place out. As a result, England turned to Geraint Jones for the final match against the West Indies.
While Jones’s selection remained controversial, he kept his place throughout the 2005 Ashes and into 2006 before his runs completely dried up, leaving England with a wicketkeeper who could neither catch nor bat. Read was recalled once again, making 38 and 55 against Pakistan at Headingley and a further 33 at The Oval, the game that was abandoned after a ball-tampering row. According to our research, the result is currently an England win, but don’t be surprised if that’s changed by the time you read this.
With Read now reestablished behind the stumps, England set off to Australia for the 2006/7 Ashes in confident mood. It didn’t last long. Read was immediately replaced by Geraint Jones once again, apparently because Duncan Fletcher had drunk so much gin that he thought it was 2005. It took three matches for Fletcher to see the error of his ways, and recall Read for a fourth time, but by then the Ashes were gone and all that remained were two routine thrashings to round the series off.
Following that series, England used Paul Nixon as their ODI wicketkeeper, winning the triangular series with their hosts and New Zealand, before trying out Matt Prior for the following summer’s Tests. It was the end of the line for Read, who returned to captain Nottinghamshire and, rather ironically, be their one decent batsman for the next few years. With Prior under a form/injury cloud at the time of writing, England are yet again scouring the land for a potential Test keeper. One slower ball from Chris Cairns may mean that they give Trent Bridge a wide berth on that search.