How Jones is keeping the faith

England's flawed gloveman stands up to the critics and vows not to let the team down. Stephen Brenkley reports
Click to follow

It has been a feature of the summer to see the ball enter Jones's hands and then leave them. Butter would not melt in his mouth, the ball refuses to melt into his gloves. He is at a loss to explain the reasons but he is desperate to improve, painfully aware of the scrutiny and the fact that the Ashes themselves could be in his hands and out of them.

"I was going well with the gloves and the bat earlier in the season," he said. "I had got great rhythm. And then for some reason during this Ashes a couple of chances have gone begging. I try not to take it away from the ground too much, because then it can start to eat you up and affect you heavily.

"I don't just dismiss it, I do think about it and work out why I didn't catch it or what caused me to miss it. But you have to try and empty your head a bit. Once I walk away from the ground and go to the hotel for dinner I focus on what I have to do the following day."

The series count makes grim reading: four dropped catches, three missed stumpings and a failed run-out. Fortunately for England, none has cost them dear. Yet. It has also been slightly counterbalanced by the fact that Adam Gilchrist, the eminent keeper-batsman of his generation and probably the best the world has seen, has also shelled catches.

As the list has grown Jones has taken a fearful pounding from many critics (including this reporter). He was partly saved by his superbly appointed 85 at Nottingham in a long partnership with Andrew Flintoff, and then immediately made keeping errors.

But he has retained both his affable disposition and the support of the dressing room, with nary a dissenting voice. When Jones's position in the side was put to Flintoff the other day he replied: "It may be an issue elsewhere, it isn't an issue in the dressing room."

These sweet words were as milk and honey to Jones. "I can definitely feel that all the lads are with me. That's the biggest thing for me, and if I miss a chance the feeling of dread is for the team, not for me.

"I wouldn't say I'm becoming used to the criticism, but you have to learn to accept it and deal with it pretty quickly, because otherwise it becomes too much. You're under the spotlight and you can't let it get on top of you, because then it detracts from your thought processes. I understand people have a job to comment, but when I read bits I must admit it frustrates me. It's part of the territory, I do my best to keep everyone quiet, but then the worm keeps popping his head up."

Part of the reason for Jones being watched so closely - aside from the fact that his misses naturally draw attention - is that he replaced the previous incumbent, Chris Read, in controversial circumstances. England were in the West Indies at the time, were leading the series 3-0 with a match to play, and Read was keeping like a dream.

Jones had a swift rise. Born in Papua New Guinea, raised in Australia and of proud Welsh parentage, he came to England for work experience and to play a little club cricket. He was noticed, snapped up by Kent, who have a history of providing England with wicketkeepers, further spotted by the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, and on tour appealed immediately to the coach, Duncan Fletcher, because of his obvious team ethos.

Jones, it should be emphasised, does not drop them all. He has entered the top 10 list of England wicketkeepers with 74 dismissals. He has more victims per match than any of the other nine (who include the usual suspects such as Alan Knott and Godfrey Evans). At Edgbaston he darted low down the leg side to take the catch that won the match for England by two runs and levelled the series. But the lapses continue to dominate the agenda.

At Trent Bridge eight days ago, he missed a stumping to dismiss Michael Clarke when he failed to gather the ball cleanly from Ashley Giles. "I felt I got in a good position but it hit me on the ribs rather than in the middle of the gloves purely because I didn't see the ball till very late, as it was full and going between bat and pad. It definitely ran through my mind that a dangerous batsman like him could go on and take the game away from us."

The manner in which he has polarised opinion is demonstrated by two recent pieces of post. After the catch at Edgbaston one fan handed him a congratulatory card and two bars of chocolate ("little things like that mean a lot"). Waiting for him at Nottingham was a splenetic note from another spectator admonishing Jones for his mistakes and telling him what a fantastic job he was doing for Australia.

Jones is a sensitive soul whose boyish face cannot conceal the pain he feels. But he is one of those who wants to like people and is to be applauded for refusing to hide away. At Canterbury the other day he made a point of shaking the hand of Bob Willis, the commentator who has been one of his fiercest critics. "We had a chat; I was disappointed with what he said but you have to accept that."

Not least considering the alacrity with which our Bob's toys came out of the pram when he responded to criticism in his playing days, it was some gesture.

Jones will be nervous on Thursday, as he conceded he was in Nottingham before his 85, which is vying with several other contenders as the innings which took the Ashes away from Australia. "It was odd, before I faced a ball. I felt as though I was going to be physically ill out in the middle before I took guard. I thought, uh oh, I'm going to have a bit of a pile here. Nothing like it had ever happened before."

But as a wickie he wants the ball. "As a keeper, if you're worried about the ball coming to you, that's the end. I still want every ball to come my way and to take the catch to win the match." If he did so at The Oval, the iron gloves would be preserved in amber for eternity.