English eyes will focus on Simon Jones during England's final warm-up game before the first Test. Stephen Harmison, James Anderson and Matthew Hoggard were given the first chance to impress during the practice match against Jamaica but each of these fast bowlers will be keenly watching the performance of Jones here over the next three days.
They have every reason to. Should the Glamorgan paceman prove that he is fit and in form against a Vice Chancellor's XI at the Sir Frank Worrell Cricket Ground, it will be one of these three who carries the drinks on 11 March. Making way for a player who has played only two first-class games in the last 15 months may seem harsh but Jones will not be the last England cricketer whose stock rises while he is injured.
"There has been a lot of focus on me," Jones said at the team hotel yesterday morning. "I have only played one-and-a-bit Test matches but there has been a lot of chat in the newspapers. The fact that people have been backing me has given me confidence but I am just looking to play some cricket, to get some overs under my belt and to take some wickets.
"I try and avoid reading what is said in the papers. I just try and concentrate on my own game so that I can relax and enjoy it. I don't try and put any pressure on myself. However, I am really looking forward to playing again. It has been a long time in coming. I worked really hard at the Academy [in Loughborough] and on the England A tour of India to get back."
Selecting Jones against the West Indies next Thursday is risky but England are keen to fast-track him back into the Test team because they believe his pace and ability to reverse-swing the old ball will add a cutting edge to their attack.
Ideally England would have wanted to play Jones in both of their warm-up games but the 25-year-old's arrival in the Caribbean was delayed because of an injury scare. While proving to the selectors that he had recovered from the hideous knee injury he picked up in Brisbane in November 2002, Jones complained of sore shins. On his return from India he was sent for scans, and waiting for the all-clear caused him to arrive here five days late.
Whether this match follows a similar pattern to the one against Jamaica will be decided upon before this morning. England have asked for another 12-a-side game but this request was initially refused by the West Indies Cricket Board. But it is understood that Jeffrey Dujon, the coach of the Vice Chancellor's XI, also wants to use 12 players.
If 12 or more players are used, the match would once again lose its first-class status and be deemed nothing more than a friendly. This does not appear to worry the England coach, Duncan Fletcher, nor his players but those who turn up to watch deserve to be told whether they are watching a meaningful game of cricket or a knock-around where the side can be changed according to the wishes of the coaches.
Four international cricketers will ensure that the Vice Chancellor's XI provide England with a sterner test than Jamaica. The responsibility for selecting the squad was split between the West Indies selectors and the Vice Chancellor. This explains the presence of two Kenyans, Steve Tikolo and Kennedy Otieno. At the WICB's invitation, Kenya have played here in this season's first-class program.
TOUR MATCH (Jamaica): England 320 (M P Vaughan 105, N Hussain 65, C M W Read 61) and 259 for 6 dec (P D Collingwood 103, A Flintoff 57); Jamaica 281 (M D Ventura 53, S Findlay 51) and 106 for 6 (A F Giles 4-19). Match drawn.Reuse content