Cricket: Jones the bat holds key to England's one-day control

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The Independent Online
IF ENGLAND win the Standard Bank Series, the audacious move to ask the wicketkeeper Geraint Jones to open the batting will have worked. Since audacious moves can also, however, be interpreted as cunning plans - and look what they did for Baldrick - the jury remains in deadlock.

Another factor may easily contribute to England's attempt to remain as ringmasters in this particular one-day circus when the second of the seven matches is played today: Baldrick may have taken over South Africa's selection panel. Cunning plans, never mind audacious moves or calculated hunches, abound.

They hastened the home side's defeat in the Test series and were evident again in the first limited-overs match. South Africa made five changes from their last match in September, including their entire middle order. The most bizarre, the epitome of Baldrickian influence this, was Adam Bacher, who was recalled after seven years because of his performances as an opener in provincial cricket, batted at four, and played a shot which would have shamed a No 11.

Graeme Smith, the captain, who has to work with what the selectors offer, invariably puts on a bullish face and yesterday described press speculation about selectorial disagreement as "a load of crap".

The usual conclusion to draw from this reaction is that there must have been something in the original allegation, but Smith said: "The selectors do have the final call, at the end of the discussion process that takes place. I'm happy with the way things are being dealt with. Haroon Lorgat, the convener, is very professional and we trust him to do the job."

But South Africa's captain conceded the strain. "I enjoy the captaincy but when you're not doing as well there's a lot more pressure on you, a lot more people to give you advice and a lot more things to think about. But it's important to know there's a process in place, a plan that you're going somewhere. Things get thrown round when you lose. Everyone has different opinions on what needs to be done."

England have won both their previous matches against South Africa at Goodyear Park. In the first of those nine years ago, just before the World Cup, they also had an experimental opener, Phillip DeFreitas. It lasted two games before the drawing board was summoned again.

Jones has been promised a longer run, although he understandably rejected any comparisons with Australia's Adam Gilchrist. "He's a fantastic striker of the ball. There's only one Gilchrist," said Jones. "If I try to live with him I'll get into a bit of trouble. I've just got to play my way. I like going into bat after I've kept, watching the ball for 50 overs, and it's a spot that's suited to my game, cutting and pulling, putting away the boundaries in the first 15 overs."

It is further evidence of England's policy to attack early on. "I've got to be wary not to get too caught up in it," said Jones. He also recognises that the vagaries of his wicketkeeping, which was sometimes scruffy during the Test series (he dropped two catches in seven balls at the Wanderers), can change the taut scoreboards of one-dayers.

"If I haven't had a great time with the gloves, I can go out there and prove it with the bat. To see them not going in is a big disappointment, but I've got another job to keep the team going so I can't dwell on it too much." You hope for Jones's sake that this is all a distinguished stratagem and not the other thing.

SOUTH AFRICA (from): G C Smith (capt), A M Bacher, N Boje, M V Boucher (wkt), A B de Villiers, H H Gibbs, A J Hall, J M Kallis, J M Kemp, A Nel, M Ntini, S M Pollock, A G Prince, J Rudolph.

ENGLAND (from): M P Vaughan (capt), K Ali, J M Anderson, G J Batty, I R Bell, P D Collingwood, A F Giles, D Gough, S J Harmison, M J Hoggard, G O Jones (wkt), K P Pietersen, V S Solanki, A J Strauss, M E Trescothick, A G B Wharf.