LONDON: Bruce French has stepped down from his role as national lead wicketkeeping coach at the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to spend more time with his family. French, a former England wicketkeeper himself, has earned an excellent reputation as a specialist coach and joined the ECB in 2009. In that time, he has played a significant role in helping a generation of players improve their keeping. While the outstanding talents of French’s time in the role may have been Ben Foakes and Sarah Taylor, it was perhaps his work with the less natural keepers which proved most significant. With England keen to ensure their keepers were also producing runs, the likes of Matt Prior, Craig Kieswetter, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow were all entrusted with the gloves. All improved markedly under French’s expert tutelage, with Kieswetter playing a key role as England won the World T20 in 2010, Buttler completing a not entirely straightforward run-out to secure the World Cup title 2019 and Prior, perhaps the most improved of the lot, making a major contribution to the England side that rose to No. 1 in the Test rankings in 2011. There was an irony in French’s role in turning these batsmen into proficient keepers. His own international career was limited to 29 games (16 Tests and 13 ODIs) in large part due to his relatively modest ability with the bat. He was, however, a fine keeper who enjoyed a career spanning two decades with Nottinghamshire. French was also on hand to present his nephew, Jake Ball, with his Test cap when he made his debut in 2016. Another former England keeper, James Foster, will fulfil the role of wicketkeeping coach on England’s upcoming limited-overs tour of South Africa. Foster has not yet replaced French on a full-time basis but, like Marcus Trescothick, has been employed on a consultancy basis for this tour. It would be no surprise if he were to become a more regular member of England’s support staff, following roles in T20 leagues around the world, including with Kolkata Knight Riders in the recently-concluded IPL. French is the second long-standing member of England’s support staff to stand down in recent days following the departure of operations manager Phil Neale; a reflection, perhaps, of the demands of living and working in bio-secure bubbles. French will, however, remain on hand as a part-time consultant. Aged 61, he remains admirably lithe and athletic.