Jones back in Test side as Fletcher reasserts authority

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Duncan Fletcher has never liked committees unless they involve a solitary figure - himself - who has total control over everything that takes place. David Graveney and Geoff Miller, Fletcher's fellow selectors, are aware of the megalomaniacal tendencies of the England coach and during home series the pair have the power to keep them at bay.

But when England leave these shores Fletcher, as was highlighted yesterday when it was announced that Geraint Jones would keep wicket against Australia in the first Test in Brisbane, gains the control he wants. Graveney and Miller have reservations about Jones; this was why they pushed through Chris Read's selection during the summer, but there was nothing they could do once Fletcher had made up his mind.

Few would doubt that Read is the better wicket-keeper of the two but, after performing admirably with the bat during his two Tests against Pakistan - 126 runs at an average of 42 - he batted poorly in October's Champions Trophy. It was a blip that gave Fletcher the chance to reintroduce one of his favourites.

"Fred [Andrew Flintoff] and myself had a good meeting and we decided we're going to go into the Test with Jones," said Fletcher. "At this stage we are convinced that Jones will be a better prospect for batting at No 7. We believe he handles the pressure better and, technically, we think he is a better batter on these wickets and especially in Test match cricket.

"Read kept wicket pretty well in the Champions Trophy in India but he did not perform as well as we would have liked with the bat. With the tail we may have in the Test series it is important that we have someone who is capable of batting at seven. It was not an easy decision but we think that Jones is the better package."

Fletcher appears keen to stress the word "we" but it is difficult to believe Read had any chance of holding on to his place once England left Heathrow. Flintoff, Matthew Maynard and Kevin Shine are meant to be involved in team selection while England are on tour but, unlike Graveney and Miller, there is little chance of the trio challenging Fletcher. As captain, Flintoff has enough on his plate, while Maynard and Shine, England's assistant coach and bowling coach, would be reluctant to disagree with a man who has the power to terminate their involvement with the team.

Even though Jones' recent form with the bat has been woeful there are reasonably sound cricketing reasons for his elevation. Read has batted beautifully for Nottinghamshire since being dropped in 2004 but the doubts over his ability to score heavily at No 7 are understandable. How he would love to be given the opportunities that Jones continues to receive.

It is not the fact that Fletcher has made this decision that causes concern, it is the surreptitious way in which it was done. Many expected Fletcher to defy Graveney and Miller once England touched down in Sydney, and he has. It will be of little consolation to Read, but he may not be the only member of the side that defeated Pakistan to miss out. Fletcher's loyalty to the players who regained the Ashes in 2005 may well influence which spinner England play in Brisbane.

Monty Panesar and Ashley Giles are both playing in the practice match against New South Wales but, contrary to what Fletcher said yesterday, only one of the spinners is likely to play on 23 November. Panesar ought to be an automatic selection, but Fletcher has his doubts. These surfaced at Old Trafford in the summer, when it was rumoured that Jamie Dalrymple, an exciting but unproven all-rounder, was going to play ahead of Panesar. But common sense prevailed, and Panesar took eight wickets. Yet the noises emanating from Australia suggest that Giles may get the nod, on account of his ability to score runs at No 8. The three-day match in Adelaide starting on Friday will force Fletcher to declare his hand.

The coach admitted that James Anderson's greater consistency had pushed him ahead of Sajid Mahmood in the race for the final seamer's spot in the side, and he also played down Michael Vaughan's chances of making an early return.

"He just said that he is ready to play a game of cricket," Fletcher said. "When you play a game of cricket it is a huge difference to just practising in the nets, so we will just have to wait and see. I still believe for him to be ready in three weeks he has to have a lot of batting under his belt and I don't think the time will be there for the Test series."