Wicketkeepers and their craft provoke outraged and outrageous debate more than any other part of the game. This is because there is only one place and there is invariably somebody else who wants it and, unlike spinners, usually plenty of others who think that somebody else should have it.
There is nothing new in English cricket's latest version of this. Geraint Jones and Chris Read are merely following where others have trodden with spring heels and soft hands. Les Ames was probably the first generally regarded wicketkeeper-batsman, but it took the selectors a couple of years to jettison George Duckworth, for whom a bat, in comparison, might as well have been a carpet beater.
In recent times, the considerable merits of both Alan Knott and Bob Taylor exercised observers for a decade, as did the varying talents of Alec Stewart and Jack Russell.
Not that any of this will necessarily have given succour to Jones, 27, as he began his second Test match, and his first in England. Jones was brought into the side instead of Read for the final Test of the series against West Indies last month and promised a run of games. It meant that his first home Test was at Lord's. He had played there once before, for Kent last summer. But he can hardly have been prepared, because nobody is, for the walk from the dressing room, through a packed Long Room and down the steps on to the turf.
"I was a little bit nervous at first, but that's the way it should be before every game," Jones said. "You catch a few balls and you settle into it."
But there were probably at least two other things on Jones's mind. The first was to do with his family. His sister Mari had just given birth to her first child back in Australia. His dad, Emrys, and his brother David had flown over to see him play, but it had probably been a tough call for the Jones boys.
The other thing was the agonising wait for his first Test victim. In Antigua, Jones had kept wicket for 202 overs, most of which he had spent watching Brian Lara's backside as he scored 400. When Lara was on nought, Jones thought he had him caught behind and was joined in his appeal by the rest of the England side.
"I shouldn't really say anything about that," said Jones with a gentle smile. "I went on the radio to give my view and I got into a bit of trouble because I was heard." On such slender calls is cricket history made. Jones never got another sniff of a chance in the match.
It was going that way at Lord's against New Zealand, and then suddenly catches at the wicket started behaving like buses. You wait 249.5 overs of your wicketkeeping life for one and two come along at once. In the 48th over of the match Nathan Astle feathered one and Jones took it straightforwardly. He stood there on his spot, absorbing the moment, and gave the ball a peck.
"The kiss? Well, I was delighted because it had been a long wait, but it was also an important wicket because of the state of the match." Four balls later, he had to dart his hands smartly to his right to pouch a nibbling Scott Styris. The bowler was Simon Jones. "That one pleased me because I remember saying to Simon in Antigua how good it would be to have a caught Jones, bowled Jones."
There was a third catch, too, but this could still not prevent some concerned discussion among a group who were probably Read supporters. Some of Jones' glovework was indisputably untidy, and there were nine byes. "It's a difficult ground to keep on," he said. "It swings and the ball dips. There was one moment I was annoyed with myself for losing concentration. The slope didn't worry me too much because there is a slope at Canterbury, but the dip of the ball is something you can't practise for because you can't replicate it."
But the batting is a different matter altogether. He is watchful, organised and unfettered in his strokemaking, as he exhibited yesterday by scoring 46 from 52 balls. "I think I have it in me to be a No 6 at Test level," he said.
He is a lovely, soft-spoken man who is aware that his performance will be scrutinised because of the circumstances of his elevation. The switch immediately provoked argument, not least among the selectors, and it is to the immense credit of Read and Jones, both as cricketers and men, that they have behaved with a good deal more decorum and propriety than some of those involved.
Jones, unlike the weather, was perpetually sunny while he trailed round the Caribbean as Read's deputy, and Read reciprocated when he was omitted. Jones is well aware of the arguments. He knows that he has to get runs, otherwise the reason for his inclusion will be nullified, but he has to do the other part of the job effectively too or the change would be ridiculous. In short, there is no point batting like Bradman if you also keep wicket like Bradman. Jones said: "I know that comparisons are being made but I haven't thought about it much and have just tried to get on with what I do. You couldn't fail to be impressed with the way Ready kept and made it look so easy."
Unlike Read, who played for England age-group sides from the age of 13, Jones has come from nowhere to be England's wicketkeeper. Well, actually he came from Papua New Guinea before moving to Australia at the age of six and then on to Abergavenny in South Wales, land of his fathers, at 18 with the intention of being a student, not a cricketer. His first full season in Kent's first team was last summer. "It helped me to start late," he said.
He has loved playing at Lord's for the second time (on the first, his first catch behind was off an edge from Andrew Strauss, centurion hero in this match). "The dressing-room honours boards listing the centuries and the wicket-takers tell its history. But you can almost hear those voices talking round the ground and you can't help but embrace them." If this wicketkeeper-batsman malarkey does not work out, he could always be a poet.Reuse content