Warne takes the fight back to England

Master leg spinner proves a handful with the bat - thanks to two chances fluffed by beleaguered Jones
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The Independent Online

Having already taken his record 600th wicket in this match, Warne yesterday bamboozled England with the bat. Most things he tried came off and when they did not, England ensured that they did.

Only 14 overs were possible but in that time Australia added 50 runs and are now 180 behind in the Third npower Test, another enthralling contest in a wonderful summer.

With two days left, England might still prise out a win but their chance has receded because of the combination of the weather and their clumsy fielding. Warne's 78 not out was his highest score against England and the home side's disappointment after the deeds of the previous day was compounded by the fact that they gave him three lives.

Two of these went to the wicketkeeper, Geraint Jones, who missed a straightforward stumping when he would have had time to go away for a long weekend and still execute it had he caught the ball.

He then put down an elementary catch offered by Warne against an extremely hostile Andrew Flintoff. It was in his gloves and then it was out again, allowing the batsmen to scamper a single.

Jones is becoming a liability, meeting the requirements for all the old jokes about being unable to keep pigeons or to catch a cold. If he is the best at this job in England then a grand tradition of wicketkeeper-batsmen has been sacrificed. In this series he has now shelled three catches and missed a stumping, in his international career of 18 matches to date there have been 11 catches and two plain stumpings gone begging.

England's coach, Duncan Fletcher, has invested much faith and a lot of his judgement in Jones. He is known to have been stung by some of the criticism aimed at the wicketkeeper earlier in the season, feeling that it was ill-founded.

His defence of his man was perhaps understandable in the middle of a match but it still beggared belief. First he explained that for the catch Jones was shielding his eyes against a low sun. "But Geraint expects to catch those," he conceded.

Nonetheless it was a preposterous excuse, calling to mind the occasion on which Sir Alex Ferguson explained away his side's 6-3 defeat at Southampton because his players were wearing grey and could not see each other against the background of the crowd.

There was then a bit of Fletcher coach speak. "I've watched a lot of cricket and I've seen Test matches not just involving England. Adam Gilchrist dropped those here and I've seen [Mark] Boucher and [Kumar] Sangakkara drop many and the Indian keepers drop catches. Most sides look as though they want to go for a batsman who can keep wicket. If you go in for that policy you've got to expect now and again the odd chance to go begging."

Ho hum. It is true that Gilchrist, who grounded two catches on Thursday, has changed perceptions about the capabilities of wicketkeeper-batsmen, but it is hardly a new idea. Les Ames averaged 40 with the bat for England before the war, Godfrey Evans was no slouch, and Alan Knott was a genius.

Jones is the worst of the wicketkeeper-batsmen from Kent and the suspicion grows that he may not be the best keeper in his own family assuming his dad knows which hand the gloves go on. In addition, Jones' batting average is below 30 and since he made his breakthrough century at Leeds last year it is 23. But this is the middle of the Ashes series, not the time to be blooding a new keeper or reintroducing an old one after a break of two years.

Jones is a happy chap to have around and a hard competitor. He took the final catch to win the epic match at Edgbaston and went on a manic run of jubilation and relief. How long ago it must have seemed yesterday.

It will not be long before his form begins to affect the whole side. In the one-day part of the summer, Jones kept well but his work in the Ashes has been largely untrustworthy. Maybe the place of the wicketkeeper-batsman is not the most important in the side but maybe, equally, England are being sidetracked by searching for an equivalent to Gilchrist, a unique specimen.

Warne, of course, seized the advantage, cheekily counter-attacking to take Australia past the follow-on total of 245. England would not have enforced it but the embarrassment factor to a side who have not had to follow on since 1988 would have been huge. Warne was not the least of England's frustrations.

Heavy rain in Manchester (seasonally heavy rain in Manchester, some might say) had delayed the start until 4pm. Then only eight overs were possible before another heavy shower, permitting six more before play ended in bright evening sunshine because of International Cricket Council regulations.

England seemed to sense the opportunity that lay in wait for them. When at last they emerged from the dressing room for practice at 3.15pm, Fletcher immediately called them into a huddle and addressed them. The look on the players' faces suggested he was not advising them about dinner arrangements.

It was a minor irritation, perhaps a shade more, that four runs had been added to Australia's total before a ball was bowled. Their overnight 210 for 7 became 214 because the scorers had apparently failed to note a no ball which had gone to the boundary.

With the score at 227, Warne launched a blistering straight drive against Ashley Giles. Low, hard, straight and to his left, Giles narrowly failed to get his hands to the ball, which cannoned into the stumps but still had sufficient force to reach the boundary. It was doubly unfortunate for England. Had Giles managed a difficult catch, Warne would have been out; had the ball grazed his hand, Jason Gillespie would have been dismissed.

It was to become worse, for Jones fluffed his stumping next ball. Giles produced a lovely turning, bouncing delivery which Warne, on a cross-batted charge down the pitch, missed. The batsman had advanced sufficiently and the ball had turned far enough to give Jones a fair sighting. He went hard at it, however, and Warne was able to regain his ground.

The botched catch came in the second mini-session. For once yesterday it was all Australia. England have to make swift incisions today to keep alive their impossible dream of taking a 2-1 lead.

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