The selection of Jim Parks to play his second Test match for England in 1960 marked the beginning of a trend towards the pre-eminence of wicketkeeper-batsmen in international cricket. Before then, Test sides had generally opted for specialist keepers who were not necessarily much good with the bat. While Parks, who has died aged 90, was no slouch behind the stumps, he was chosen ahead of technically better exponents of the art. His subsequent successes set the standard for those who followed, from Alan Knott to Alec Stewart and Jonny Bairstow.
In his early years he was not even a wicketkeeper. At Sussex from 1949 onwards he had been a batsman who could bowl a bit – until one afternoon in 1958 he kept wicket for fun during the final session of a dead match against Middlesex. His captain, Robin Marlar, then offered Parks the job ahead of the regular keeper, Rupert Webb, whose career batting average was just 11.72, and was due to retire.
The switch worked for Sussex and was also the making of Parks. His decision to accept the gauntlets doubled his value overnight, and for much of the next decade he was a Test regular.
Born in Haywards Heath in Sussex, Parks came from a cricketing family: his father, Jim senior, played one Test for England and was a Sussex all-rounder between 1924 and 1939. Young Jim’s mother, Irene (nee Heaver), died of tuberculosis when he was four, and with his father away for much of the year he was largely brought up by his maternal grandparents.
Playing cricket for Hove county school and Haywards Heath, Jim was soon appearing at junior level for Sussex and signed a contract in 1949, aged 18. He made his first class debut that year, and the following one made a maiden century (159 not out) against Kent.
During national service in the RAF he appeared not just for Combined Services but for Sussex, too. In his first full season, 1953, Sussex were runners-up to Surrey in the county championship. By this time Parks’s bowling had taken a back seat and he had become a recognised middle-order batsman. With a warm, sunny disposition and even temperament, he was noted for his fine stroke-making and in particular for the beauty of his cover drive. His county colleague Ted Dexter admired Parks’s game as “stylish, unaffected and unselfish”, but as Wisden noted, “though he was never dull, his cricket lacked consistency”.
It was therefore an unexpected England debut that came his way at the age of 22 in 1954, against Pakistan at Old Trafford thanks to a late withdrawal. In his only innings he made 15.
When he was next brought into the England set-up, to tour South Africa in 1956-57, he was hit by a ball in fielding practice at the start of the trip, bringing on double vision that required a return to Britain for treatment. He recovered, but then had pneumonia before he could rejoin the tour.
His first full match behind the stumps was against Essex at Brentwood in 1958, when he used so many unfamiliar muscles that he seized up after the match and could not keep wicket again for another six weeks. After a programme of exercises he was ready to resume against Yorkshire at Worthing.
In 1959 Parks not only claimed 93 victims but scored 2,313 runs, averaging more than 50 and hitting the season’s fastest hundred in 61 minutes. Overlooked for England’s 1959-60 tour of the West Indies, he accepted a winter coaching job in Trinidad, which put him in a handy position when injuries struck the England party late in the series. He was asked to make the short trip to join them in British Guiana (now Guyana), where he kept wicket and scored an exuberant 183 in a match against Berbice.
On the basis of that performance Parks was called up for the fifth and final Test, in Trinidad, for which he was selected as keeper ahead of the incumbent, Roy Swetman, whose batting skills were limited. Parks scored 43 and 101 not out, with his second innings instrumental in securing a draw for England, and a 1-0 win in the series.
In 1960 he played in all five home Tests against South Africa, taking 16 catches. But with the bat his top score was 36, and it took until 1963 for him to be chosen for the second Test against West Indies at Lord’s, retaining his place for the rest of the five match series. His keeping in those matches was good, but crucially he also performed well with the bat, scoring 57 in the fifth Test at Leeds. Thereafter he played in a long sequence of Tests spread over eight successive series – including tours to India, South Africa, Australia and the West Indies. On the 1963-64 tour to India he averaged 42.20 in Tests, and in the 1965-66 Ashes series he made 290 runs.
The last of his 46 Tests came in 1968 against West Indies in Barbados, by which time he was 36.
He scored 1,962 Test runs at an average of 32.16 and with two centuries, the highest his 108 not out in a winning cause against South Africa in Durban in 1964. He also took 103 catches and 11 stumpings at Test level. His England successor was Knott, another high-quality wicketkeeper-batsman.
Though Parks was made captain of Sussex in 1967, he realised that he was too much “one of the boys” to be a forceful leader and resigned before the end of the following season. His breezy batting continued to be of great use in one-day cricket – he had been a key factor in his county winning the first 65-over Gillette Cup final in 1963, and the 60-over final in 1964 – but by 1973, with Sussex reluctant to make a commitment to a player who was by now in his 40s, he joined Somerset under the captaincy of his friend Brian Close, who used him with success as a batsman in the county championship and as a wicketkeeper in one-day games.
Parks had one more season in 1974 before becoming a travelling representative with the Whitbread brewery company, but retained his registration with Somerset until 1976 so he could appear in the odd game when required, his last match coming that year against Worcestershire.
In all Parks scored 36,673 runs at an average of 34.76, with 51 centuries. As a wicketkeeper he claimed 1,181 dismissals.
After 18 years with Whitbread he returned to Sussex as their marketing manager, and in retirement was president of the county in 2013.
Parks was married three times; his first two marriages, to Irene Young and Ann Wembridge, ended in divorce. He is survived by his third wife, Jenny (nee Rogers), a teacher from Cardiff whom he married in 1973, and by two children, Bobby (who played cricket for Hampshire and Kent) and Louise, from his first marriage. A third child from that marriage, Andrew, died in 2004.