Cricket: Jones leaves cares behind

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The Independent Online
Last week's sudden departure of Dean Jones from Derbyshire has divided opinion over whether the erstwhile county captain was a victim of "player-power", as he claimed, or a victim of his own shortcomings. What cannot be disputed is that county cricket in general will be the poorer for his absence; genuine world-class batsmen are few and far between, and Jones is certainly one of those.

His aggressive approach is not to everyone's liking. He fell out of favour with the Australian selectors, and more recently those of his state side, Victoria, who stripped him of the captaincy in favour of Shane Warne. But his leadership style took Derbyshire to within a whisker of the Championship itself last year.

Derby and Jones always seemed an odd couple. After 52 Tests and 164 one- day internationals, the highest run-scorer in the history of Australia's Sheffield Shield found himself in the back-woods of the English county circuit. It may well be that, at 36, one season was more than enough for Jones - but it may also be that the Midlands club will be reflecting upon their carelessness in letting Jones become so disenchanted.

While it is hard to recall a captain walking out on his county after just a few weeks of the season, if the truth is as Jones insists, it would not be the first time a captain has lost control of his troops. Results have not gone Derbyshire's way this season and, unlike in football, it is the captain rather than the coach or manager who tends to take the flak.

That situation may be slowly changing. The England team has taken the lead by removing the captain from the selection process, leaving him free to concentrate on the game without having to worry about making enemies among the players. So far, for new England, so good. At county level only one club has followed this example, and no one would be surprised to learn that Dermot Reeve is involved.

The Somerset coach is in charge of picking the side, but before the cries of "arrogant so-and-so" go up around the shires it should be noted that, according to Reeve, it was at the behest of his captain, Peter Bowler, not Reeve himself. Nevertheless, Reeve's own experiences as Warwickshire captain, where he was not always flavour of the month with certain players, will have endeared him to the concept.

In a game where team spirit is the hardest currency of all, it makes sense for the captain to be on speaking terms with all of his players, and it must be helpful if the coach, or in England's case the three Gs, can protect the captain from any festering resentment on the part of players who may feel they have been unfairly treated. Captaining a side in the field is demanding enough.

Somerset's results this season will not be encouraging other sides to make such fundamental changes just yet. On Saturday they came off second best to Hampshire after three manic days at Basingstoke, where Kevan James returned career-best figures of 13 for 94 to earn victory by nine runs.

The day's most remarkable cricket was at Cardiff, where Glamorgan were skittled for 31 by Angus Fraser and Jamie Hewitt. A win for Middlesex there, allied to an Essex triumph over Sussex at Hove (where Ashley Cowan, England's guest this week at Lord's, took nine wickets) gives the table a familiar look this morning, albeit one we have not seen for three or four years.

It will not last long, as both Gloucestershire and Kent will leapfrog Middlesex and Essex by tonight, whatever the outcome of their matches. Of the two, Kent have more chance of victory, but they will be hoping to see off Graham Lloyd quickly second time around after his explosive 122 for Lancashire on Saturday.

Centuries by Tim Curtis and Graeme Hick, his first of the season, have put Gloucestershire on the back foot against Worcestershire at Bristol, while a remarkable victory is a distinct possibility for Yorkshire, 19 for no wicket chasing 316 at The Oval despite Surrey's first-innings 549. If Alec Stewart ends up on the losing side after his unbeaten 271, the pressure will start to mount on his successor as Surrey captain, Adam Hollioake.

And so back to Derbyshire. Phil DeFreitas, apparently one of Jones's detractors, is in charge now and his first task will be to avert defeat by Warwickshire at Edgbaston today. That should not be a problem. His second task, however - developing eyes in the back of his head - might not prove so straightforward.