Read ready for hit-or-bust Test of batting credentials

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The Independent Online

Chris Read would rather talk about the positive things England have achieved during their historic tour of the Caribbean than the precarious nature of his position in the side. This is understandable but it is the situation England's first-choice wicketkeeper finds himself in after failing to score the runs required of a player whom Michael Vaughan and the selectors want to bat in the top seven.

Read is unlikely to be dropped for Saturday's fourth Test in Antigua but it could be his last chance to prove he can fill the void left by Alec Stewart.

"It has been disappointing not to score runs," Read said. "When I came to the West Indies I knew I needed to and that hasn't changed. There are a few players in the side who are crying out for some runs but from a team perspective it has been a fantastic tour.

"I am aware that there is still quite a lot of pressure on me but I will continue to put in the hard work in the nets and spend as much time as I can in the middle when I can. So far on this tour the pitches have not really favoured the batsmen but things might change here in Antigua. My selection obviously depends on the management and the way they feel about the structure of the side and my contribution."

Following Stewart was always going to be a huge challenge because the Surrey wicketkeeper-batsman acted as England's second all-rounder. It was Stewart's selection ahead of Jack Russell in the 1990s which signified a change in England's strategy. Russell was - and probably still is - the best wicketkeeper in England yet his appearances dwindled when the selectors took more notice of Stewart's batting than the Gloucestershire stumper's glovework.

Stewart's batting - averaging 39.55 - allowed England to play six batsmen and five bowlers, whereas the selection of Russell, who averaged 27.10, caused an imbalance. If Russell played, England were either one batsman or one bowler short. And this is proving to be the case with Read who, despite being a better batsman than his figures suggest, still averages only 15.30.

Geraint Jones, Read's understudy, is a good batsman and a capable keeper but it would be a shame to see quality stumpers being replaced by stoppers. Read has kept superbly on this tour. He has conceded just one bye and is yet to drop a catch.

When selecting wicketkeepers, other countries tend to pick their best batsmen of that ilk but I am yet to be convinced that this is right. Bowlers would always want the best gloveman they could possibly have standing behind the stumps because he is the player you rely on most. More catches go to the wicketkeeper than any other fielder and I would want the likelihood of this player catching Brian Lara, if I found his outside edge, to be as high as possible.

Even great wicketkeepers drop catches but the consequences of grassing a player of this quality can be grave.

"Test cricket takes some time to get used to," Read said. "As time has gone on, I have felt more and more comfortable with my keeping but I have not yet reached this stage with my batting. There have been times when I have felt good out in the middle, not least in the last Test. I am hoping these feelings become more consistent and that, given the chance, I can turn these feelings into a meaningful score."