Read batters down door to England Test arena

The Headingley spotlight will fall on Chris Read's work in front of the wicket rather than behind it. Jon Culley reports
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The Independent Online

In his joy and relief that two years and more of professional frustration have been ended in the best possible way, Chris Read has probably not dwelt for long on the plight of his ousted rival in the contest for the England wicketkeeping gloves. Yet he will be feeling a certain empathy.

The dropping, mid-series, of Geraint Jones has clear echoes of the way Read, having been groomed to succeed Alec Stewart, was himself stripped of his duties with one Test remaining of the West Indies- England series of 2004. It is not a nice way in which to lose a job. Scanning a tour party list to find your name omitted can be unpleasant; to be dropped with the campaign in full flow is brutal.

Read, like Jones, paid for lack of runs. In 10 Test innings up to and including the third Test in Bridge-town, Barbados, in April 2004, the Nottinghamshire player had made 123 runs which, for all the reliability of his glovework, was not good enough. The last 10 Test innings played by Jones have yielded 91.

The difference is that as a batsman Jones, who returns to Kent with the additional discomfort of a cracked finger-end on his right hand, does have some international pedigree: a hundred in his third Test appearance, six other half-centuries and a respectable average of 25.79. Read's highest score in 16 Test innings, in which he averages 15.30, is a modest 38 not out.

Which is why the spotlight at Headingley from Friday will be not on how Read performs in his first discipline, in which he is regarded as among the best in the world and certainly better than Jones, but on how productive and comfortable he manages to be when he straps on the bigger pads in his cricket bag.

The numbers look good enough. In 43 first-class matches since he lost his England place, Read has piled up 2,389 runs, including seven hundreds and 16 fifties, and averages 46.84. Five of the centuries have been this season, including 150 against Pakistan at Canterbury. Runs in county cricket are one thing, however, Test runs another; the question over Read is whether his technique equips him for the latter.

To the end of removing that doubt, Read had worked with his county coaches and the ECB National Academy. "I have made a conscious effort to look at my batting and analyse where I can improve," he said. "I have worked hard with the help of Mick Newell and Paul Johnson at Nottinghamshire as well as ECB staff. I feel that I have reaped the rewards by scoring well in both first-class and one-day cricket over the last couple of seasons."

It is a view endorsed by Newell, the director of cricket at Trent Bridge. "Technically, Chris is much tighter now," he said. "He has learnt to play himself in and pace an innings better. After he came back from the West Indies we pushed him up to No 6 on our batting order so that he would have the opportunity to play longer innings and have the benefit more often of having a top-quality batsman at the other end rather than be shepherding the tail.

"He has spoken to Duncan Fletcher a number of times. It is a great opportunity for him to get involved ahead of the Ashes."

Joneswill play in the Championship match against Hampshire at Canterbury, starting tomorrow, despite his injured finger. "He is taking it pretty well, really," said Graham Ford, Kent's director of cricket, said. "He is a fantastic character and he is being very positive, seeing this as an opportunity to play himself back into the reckoning."

A tale of two keepers

Matches 31
Runs 1,109
Highest score 100
Average 25.79
Catches 119
Stumpings 5
Matches 6
Runs 171
Highest score 60
Average 21.37
Catches 29
Stumpings 2

Matches 11
Runs 199
Highest score 38 not out
Average 15.30
Catches 31
Stumpings 4
Matches 12
Runs 601
Highest score 150 not out
Average 42.92
Catches 38
Stumpings 0