The Cricketer
The Cricketer The Cricketer

MY FAVOURITE: CHRIS READ

The quintessentially English Chris Read – playing in his final match – was Notts’ great man in a crisis, says his No.1 fan, American Erik Petersen

In the Chris Read innings I see when I close my eyes, he is always extricating Nottinghamshire from some disaster.

An innings that was 103 for 1 when I walked over to the West Bridgford Co-op for a paper is, upon my return, 122 for 5.

A changing-room door slams, a deepest-Worksop voice somewhere in the members’ pavilion holds forth on Derek Randall’s day (brilliant) and this shambles (less so), and out in the middle, Read goes to work.

He walks out compact and purposeful, like a man heading to the textile mill where maybe today he’ll get that promotion to management. Later, when he walks back with Harry Gurney after one of the latter’s patented three-ball ducks, the match has been, if not always salvaged, dragged back towards something bordering on respectability.

Read is not flashy. He does not engage in banter, bants, Bantersaurus Rex or any variation thereof. T20 pyrotechnics – the actual ones ringing the outfield, not the batting ones he is perfectly capable of delivering – seem out of place near him. He is a classic wicketkeeper. He is English.

I am not. I arrived in Nottingham from the United States in late 2003 and made my first trip to Trent Bridge in 2004. I walked into the ground having already tried and failed to embrace football. I had decided to do football the hard way, which in Nottingham means watching Notts County. (In my quest for authenticity, I became the first person since roughly 1985 to label Nottingham Forest “too big”.)

I tried, but it turns out there are only so many rain-swept 0-1 losses to outfits like Luton Town a man can stand. Football’s ubiquity also bothered me; it took me less than a year in England to get annoyed by July football yammering.

Then I went to Trent Bridge, and stayed. Yes, my arrival coincided with the 2005 Ashes and the rise of T20. But neither of those won me over. County cricket did that, and its greatest ambassador to the United States was Chris Read.

For Anglophile Americans – and particularly for expat Americans in England – babbling on about beloved quintessentially English things is a dangerous game. In that scenario, it is easy to think you sound like someone with a subtle grasp of Alan Bennett and Spike Milligan when in reality, you come off like some nitwit who just bought an Are You Being Served? DVD box set. 

And yet there is something – I’m going to have to say it now – quintessentially English about Chris Read. If someone who doesn’t understand English parlance asked me to define what ‘just getting on with it’ looks like, I would suggest they watch Read walking out to bat in the middle of a Notts collapse. I do not mean to say that Read helped me understand what it is to be English – although, now that I think about it, that is exactly what I mean to say.

“I ventured outside the Trent Bridge bubble and found out the cruel truth of English cricket – the county cricketer you know and love is mostly remembered for whatever England time he had”

This all made it rather difficult when, cricket-crazed with the passion of a convert, I ventured outside the Trent Bridge bubble and found out that cruel truth of English cricket fandom – that the county cricketer you know and love is, away from his home ground, mostly remembered for whatever England time he had. 

Away from Trent Bridge, Read is a Rorschach test for fans’ views on the Duncan Fletcher years. Or the demise of the wicketkeeping-first wicketkeeper. Or the general narrative about how international cricket is rough and some people never really get their shot.

And yeah, one time at Lord’s he ducked away from a Chris Cairns slower ball headed for middle stump. I bet you have had a bad day at work, too.

But that is fine; nobody else has to care. We love him, and that is enough. If he helped me towards Englishness, Read – a Notts transplant like me, though Devon’s closer than Florida – also helped me towards the unique English condition known as ‘from Nottinghamshire’. To have this condition is to distrust north and south with equal vigour. To simultaneously believe that Trent Bridge’s Long Room is much grander than the one at Lord’s, and that the Fox Road Stand’s finest can drink Headingley’s best under the table. To not care what you think. Nobody needs greater glory when they’ve got Trent Bridge.

Read nears the end of his playing career still looking a bit like a man not long old enough to buy a post-match pint in the Larwood & Voce – but with the sort of career that ought to lead some near-Trent Bridge future publican to consider The Chris Read as an excellent pub name.

Let’s be clear on this: now he is retiring, he is going on a shortlist. It is a list that includes Reg Simpson and Arthur Carr, George Parr and William Clarke. Read is one of the great Nottinghamshire captains.

If you do not understand that, it does not mean you do not understand cricket. It just means you have not been around Trent Bridge enough. Too bad for you.

These days, I am not around Trent Bridge enough either. I’m back in Florida. Not long after moving back, I went to the British consulate in Miami to get sworn in as a citizen.

To become British, I first had to agree with the Consul General that I would give my loyalty to the United Kingdom, respect its rights and freedoms, uphold its democratic values and observe its laws faithfully.

He never asked me what I would do if, for example, I was required to bat when it is 122 for 5 and everything is going to hell in a handcart. Which is a shame, because I know the answer now.

Erik Petersen edits Fort Lauderdale’s quality city monthly and writes a monthly opinion piece. Between 2003 and 2011 he was a journalist on the Nottingham Post. He may be the only journalist to have written about sewage treatment in Kansas City and cricket matches in Nottingham.