Today we get some insight from the former professional Wicker Keeper and current Head of Cricket at Stowe School, James Knott.
James, please can you tell us a little bit about your career?
Having come through the junior ranks at Kent, I played professional cricket for MCC Young Cricketers, Surrey and Somerset for eight years between 1994 and 2001. After this I spent nine years in minor counties cricket at Bedfordshire. On several occasions I also represented Minor Counties XI and the ECB XI (England amateurs) that won the European Championship in 2004. Since then I have been the Head of Cricket at Stowe School. During my time at Stowe several pupils have gone on to play professional cricket, with the most high-profile being Ben Duckett.
If you could say a few inspiring words to an aspiring wicket keeper what would they be?
Wicket keeping is such a great role to have in the team as you are always in the game and there is always something to do. To me there is no better feeling than taking a great diving catch or stumping. Even if you don’t take the ball, each delivery you need to get up to the stumps for a run out opportunity and take the fielders throw. Then you can help maintain energy levels by encouraging your teammates and assist the captain with tactical advice/field placings.
Aim to develop a really positive mind-set that you want to influence the game. This could be taking a great diving catch when the team is under pressure and the captain has called for someone to do something special or, if you’ve just missed a chance, to think really positively that another opportunity could come next ball - it could be the best catch you’ve ever taken. Remember, every keeper at every level, has missed many chances in their career – but it is always the next one that counts. If you accept that you will, on occasion, miss a dismissal opportunity, you are half way there to being prepared for it when it happens and being able to put it out of your mind and focus on the next ball.
Run Outs – In front or behinds the stumps. Where did you stand? What do you teach now?
When I was keeping for Surrey & Somerset up until the early noughties all keepers were taught to stand behind the stumps and this is certainly what I did right up to when I finished playing back in 2009. It is now a lot more common to see wicket keepers take the ball in front of the stumps from throws from the deep. If you can master knocking the bails off as you give with the ball it does shave off some time. At the school where I coach we have timed this and it is definitely quicker. You have to get the technique right though. If you look at Joss Butler he is in front but his body is angled so he can still get a view of where the stumps are and he sets a wide base so he can move quickly from side to side, forward and back, if the throw is wide. This method also aids him in not treading on the stumps or missing them as he gives with the ball. It is a skill and the method needs to be practiced before taken into a game.”
There is a caveat to this, if the ball is hit to a close fielder who is going for a direct hit this may be quicker and if you are in front of the stumps you may block their line of sight. So this is a judgement call dependent on where the throw is coming from and whether a direct hit is required to achieve the run out.
I understand you have co-written a book on Wicket Keeping that is being released next month. Please can you tell us a little bit about the book?
Yes, I wrote this with a coaching colleague, Andrew O’Connor. The book is aimed at all wicket keepers and coaches whatever part of their cricketing journey they are on – there is something for everyone to take away from it. The book details the technical and mental aspects of wicket keeping and there is a section on the further roles of the wicket keeper and how to look after yourself and kit. The book includes contributions from Jack Russell, Alan Knott, David Ripley, Ben Duckett, Tom & Peter Moores with the foreword kindly written by Alec Stewart. The book can be pre-ordered from polarispublishing.com or Amazon.
Do you have any Wicket Keeping specific training or practice ideas that can be carried out in the middle of winter during lockdown?
The book has a huge drills and practices chapter including a section about training on your own, such as these:
Reverse hand rebounds
Equipment: One tennis ball
The keeper is set up approximately one metre back from of a wall, facing directly towards it. The keeper gently under-arm throws the ball against the wall. Upon its return, if the ball is slightly on the left side of the body, the keeper catches the ball in the right hand, ensuring that the hand has reversed, i.e. the little finger is higher up than the thumb, which is now pointing at the ground. Repeat numerous times for both right and left hand takes. The keeper should be set in a comfortable position, keeping their feet totally still. Wicket keeping gloves are not required, but they may want to wear their keeping inners. This is a great drill for developing wrist flexibility, essential for producing large catching areas for two handed high side takes.
A form of competition can be introduced, rewarding points for good technique. Use a set of stumps/kit bag/chair and throw to the leg-side from the off side so leg-side footwork is incorporated. Go back to stumps for stumping one handed.
Equipment: Plastic cone, tennis ball
The keeper holds a plastic cone in their left hand, and under-arm throws the ball on to the wall. Upon its return, they “nick” the ball with the cone, and take the catch in their right hand. This is repeated with the right hand holding the cone, and the left hand throwing and catching the ball. The catching hand can be placed close to the nicking cone.
Throw the ball over-arm, increasing the pace of the throw.
Place the catching hand further away from the cone to take wider nicks.
Ensure that the ball bounces off the floor before taking the catch.
Equipment: Pack of playing cards
Keeper adopts a set position, holding a single playing card. The card is then firmly thrown vertically into the air. Keeper attempts to catch it before it hits the ground.
Keeper puts two cards into their hand, one card black, and one red. The keeper selects a colour to catch. They are firmly thrown together, and the keeper has to identify the correct card and catch it before it hits the floor.
Then progress to using two cards, both the same colour, but different numbers. Progress to 3 cards, two with numbers on, the third being a royal. Call the royal etc. Same colour, different suites etc.
Finally, from a coaching perspective is there one or more of your past coaches that has influenced your coaching style?
To be honest I think I have learned something (or stolen something!) from every coach that I have worked with or been coached by and they have all influenced my coaching in some way. I have learned that, just like a player, it is important to be yourself and know your own style and what works for you. You need to work to your own strengths as a coach, just as you would be asking a player to do the same. I think players will always see through someone who is trying to be something they are not. Developing honest rapport with players is so important in order that constructive two-way conversations can take place.
James, a huge thank you for giving up your time and providing this information.