There are two kinds of champions – ones who never give up and ones who never have to give up. Bob Taylor signifies the former – starting a wicket-keeping career at the young age of 30, then sitting out for almost a decade before making a rousing comeback to finish a stellar career at the age of 43. And Alan Knott embodies the latter.
Admittedly, it is hard to give Knott his due for our generation – keeping is not the most glamorous job on the cricket field and the wrong notion that Gilchrist was the first proper keeper-batsman has often made us belittle the contributions of those who came before him. The fact that our preferred choice of game – T20 – does not take keeping seriously, often handing out the gloves to a player who might have last kept in his backyard, only exacerbates this issue. England is the main culprit here, what with the likes of Kieswetter, Morgan, Bairstow and Buttler being preferred to a Matt Prior – who, in my opinion, is currently the best wicket-keeper-batsman in the longer version of the game and one of the key reasons for England’s success in the same.
Having said that, Knott would have walked into any team in any format today. Knott was the original keeper-batsman back in the 70s, when the most a team could expect from its keeper was rearguard action. And he would have been the first keeper to 100 Tests (and much more) had World Series Cricket not left him stranded at 95. Three years after he retired, his record of 95 Tests as a wicket-keeper was broken by Rod Marsh (many say this was the sole reason he prolonged his career). Marsh’s record stood for nearly 15 years till it was broken by Ian Healy in the late 90s, and subsequently by Mark Boucher.
Those who have seen Marsh keep say he was the best. Those who have seen both him and Knott say Knott was better. Knott came into the English side when, even after eight years of trying, the selectors had failed to find an adequate replacement for their post-war hero Godrey Evans. In the next ten years, Knott would miss only 4 of the 93 Tests England played during that period. Ask any English old-timer and he will tell you he has seen a lot during his lifetime but not an Alan Knott drop.
What makes Knott’s place in history even more relevant is the partnership he formed with Derek Underwood at Kent and then in the England team. Underwood was no less than an undertaker when it came to damp, uncovered pitches in varying stages of breakdown. His stock delivery was a couple of miles slower than Afridi’s faster delivery; add uneven bounce to that and you have a wicket-keeper’s nightmare.
Not for Knott. Or even if he did feel that way, he did not show it. The pair formed a lethal combo in 72 of Knott’s 95 Tests way before the likes of Gilchrist-Warne were to materialize. Within three years of his debut, Knott had made it to the Wisden Cricketers of the Year list – a rarity by English standards.
Five Test centuries and a career average of over 30 from numbers seven and eight suggest that he was no flash in the pan when it came to batting. The keen eyes and nimble footwork perfected by hours behind the stumps helped him in front of them too, what with his unorthodox sweeps, cuts and pulls showcasing his attacking skills and quick scoring. Not that he could not defend – in his fourth Test at Georgetown, he battled against the West Indian pace battery to score an unbeaten 73 in four hours to save the match and the series.
When Knott was at the prime of his powers, Kerry Packer came calling and Knott found himself in World Series Cricket. It effectively ended his limited overs international career as he gave Bob Taylor a foot in the door and the latter pushed his way in to see England through to the finals of the second edition of the World Cup. Knott would make a comeback to the Test team in 1980 against the West Indies, but the light had gone out of our lives. Knott snapped up six catches in the first Test but struggled thereafter, failing to get into double figures each time he batted and taking only five catches in the next three matches. He was dropped for David Bairstow in the final match of the series, and when the Australians came calling the next year in what would be “Botham’s Ashes”, Taylor was the first choice wicket-keeper – something which those who had seen Knott at his peak in the early 70s would fail to understand. Knott came back in the side for the 5th match of the series and took five catches and scored a crucial 59 in a partnership with John Emburey to help England take a series winning 3-0 lead. He followed it up with knocks of 36 and an unbeaten 70 to help England avert a defeat in the last match, but dropped Rod Marsh twice on the way to suggest that his wicket-keeping days were coming to an end. Nevertheless, he bowed out on a high, along with Mike Brearley for company.
After a brief stint of commentary and coaching, Knott quit the game to take up a quiet retired life. His son James was good enough to take up the gloves a few times for Surrey, but like many others before and after him, could never live up to his father’s legend.
As of now, Knott walks along the beaches of Cyprus, unrecognized by most and revered by those who recognize him. Which befits his quiet and unassuming nature behind the stumps.
To check the rest of the list of the greatest wicketkeepers of all time, click here.