Jones up for a long open season

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The Independent Online

England are hoping that Geraint Jones will become the next Adam Gilchrist. In the Middle Ages, it is claimed, some sorcerers turned lead into gold. It is an ambitious conversion and it is not certain to come off.

Gilchrist is the best wicketkeeper-batsman in the world, a unique figure in the game who averages more than 50 in Test cricket, 35 in one-day cricket, where he scores his runs as an opener at an astonishing 95 every 100 balls, and takes some spectacular diving catches.

Jones, on the other hand, is a beleaguered figure under pressure for his place who has struggled both as a keeper and with the bat (which is why he was given the job in the first place). Much is being asked of him, maybe too much now that he has been promoted to open the innings in one-day cricket, like Gilchrist. Wicketkeeping was already a difficult enough job.

In South Africa he opened in seven matches and made 139 runs at 19. The fraught nature of his task was merely compounded in yesterday's warm-up game at Southampton, when he was out second ball to an attempted pull.

Last week he was accused of cheating after claiming a catch in the Second Test against Bangladesh which appeared to have bounced, a feeling reinforced by replays. You would have needed a cab to reach it. He was cleared of sharp practice by the match referee, but he is aware that the scrutiny of him will redouble.

In the light of all this, it is remarkable that Jones remains a little ray of Cambrian sunshine. He is unquestionably a sensitive soul, and there were times in South Africa last winter, where his keeping was on the verge of falling apart, when he equally seemed on the verge of having a good blub.

But he was never less than affable, always managed a smile and a polite nod and has retained his self-belief, not least in the thought that he can be an effective opening batsman in one-day internationals. "It's a position I know I'm going to do well at," he said. "It suits my game down to the ground.

"It's about the balance of the team, I can be a key all-rounder by opening the innings and giving depth and flexibility to the batting order. It's not something that has just happened out of the blue. It's always been in the background, to try and get the best out of me."

He is aware that many pundits would have him out of the team, but the England coach, Duncan Fletcher, and captain, Michael Vaughan, have lent continuing support. "In one-day cricket the teams that do well think outside the box," Jones said. "We're not following the Australians for the sake of it." But if his opening the batting raises an eyebrow, his keeping has hoisted the other. For too many sessions in South Africa he was not up to it, and his defects were only heightened by the fact that Chris Read, much the superior gloveman, was his deputy.

It was obvious - and it was said repeatedly, though Fletcher preferred to deflect the matter - that he needed help. Now he has it in the shape of Jack Russell, who has helped not only with technical advice but also by saying nice things, which is often the best kind of support.

"It has definitely helped to have him; apart from anything else, it's confidence-building to have someone like Jack Russell standing next to you," he said. "After getting back from South Africa I spent hours working on things. I realised that my preparation wasn't right. I was practising but I wasn't doing things at match speed. Now I try to replicate matches as well as possible."

Thus, he will now practise with a first slip alongside and deliberately dive in front of him at head height. He will go for all the low, wide ones. Fletcher is an admirable coach with enviable skills, but this is being wise after the event.

Poor Jones was placed further in the spotlight after the goings-on at Chester-le-Street when his claimed catch to send Nafees Iqbal on his way was shown to have bounced. Jones said: "I thought I caught it cleanly. I have never claimed a catch I didn't think I caught and there was pressure deeper in my hand, not on the end of my fingers. I'm just glad that I was acquitted on a serious charge. I was under scrutiny before and I accept that isn't going to disappear now. But I am the man for this job."

And then there are the Australians, who are bound to reserve a special welcome for Jones since he was brought up there. He expects to have his character examined but he will also remind them if necessary that he was not born there but in Papua New Guinea of Welsh parents. "I might start speaking to them in pidgin English."

The only talking that will really count is in the languages of runs and catches. Jones has to become fluent in both quickly.