Jones's keeping has been a lot better this season and he was virtually flawless at both Lord's and Old Trafford. His batting, though, has become increasingly hesitant, and I felt that his inability to get a shift on at an important time had a lot to do with England's delayed declaration at Lord's. As Geoff Boycott, in his characteristically compassionate and understated way, said on TMS during the Lord's Test: 'He's gone from being a batsman who can't keep to being a keeper who can't bat'.
Truth is, he's now a pretty good keeper who's simply going through a very bad trot with the bat, and I feel slightly sorry for him, having worked so hard to improve what was (correctly) perceived as his weakness, only to find that his form in the stronger part of his game has deserted him.
The timing of the change is surprising. With only two more Tests before the resumption of the battle for the Ashes, I had largely given up hope of seeing Read recalled, and, considering Jones's improvement behind the stumps, the more conservative move (and how frequently do English cricket selectors spurn the conservative option?) would have been to stick with the Kent man.
I doubt if it was rationalized (or even discussed) in these terms, but the move smacks of an attempt by the selectors to settle the argument once and for all. Time for Read to put up or shut up. Avoid any fatal errors with the gloves and make a few runs and you'll arrive in Brisbane as first choice, fail in either department (but especially with the bat), and you won't. Come back Geraint, all is forgiven.
As I've said before, I've got a natural affinity with Read as I've watched him since he first got into the Devon side at the age of sixteen, but I've become slightly concerned about some of the stuff that's been written about him in the press, which may have led people to believe that he's some sort of cross between Alan Knott, Bob Taylor and Jack Russell.
He's a good keeper - but not a great one - and he's always been able to bat, an area of the game which unquestionably let him down during his previous flirtations with the Test side. He's worked on that, made plenty of runs, and deserves a go. But the pressure will really be on.
This is Chris Read's big opportunity. I just hope it's not too big.
After the stand between Kumar Sangakkara and his close friend Mahela Jayawardene had ended on 624 I reflected on the fact that it's gratifying that the runs were made against a relatively strong attack, although it was clearly rendered impotent by a combination of unforgiving conditions and fine batting.
Sangakkara, with a number of assured starts which failed to develop, and Jayawardene, with his superb batting at Lord's in particular, gave hints of what they were capable of on their team's tour of England earlier this summer.
Even after a quarter-century of Test cricket, Sri Lankan players still tend to be underestimated, but Sangakkara and Jayawardene are unquestionably among the finest batsmen operating in the world today.
Just look in the book.
On an unusually helpful surface Steve Harmison produced his best display of fast bowling for more than two years and Monty Panesar again demonstrated what a magnificent bowler he could become.
England haven't had a slow bowler with Panesar's ability to spin the ball since Derek Underwood, and when you consider the fact that he appears unafraid of both reputations and flighting the ball, he could go a very long way indeed.
The apparent obsession with his lack of fielding and batting ability appears increasingly irrelevant. Anyone who's been around the cricket block for more than a couple of years will remember players who make Monty look like Ricky Ponting (Kevin Jarvis and Jim Griffiths to name only two), and, while he clearly struggles in the field, he's working hard to improve and England seem to be doing a very good job of hiding him thus far.
Panesar appears to have captured the public's imagination in a way that few cricketers have managed in recent years and, as an example of the evolution of his country as a multi-racial, multi-faith, multi-cultural society at something approaching ease with itself, the response of English crowds this summer has been resonant and fascinating.
Up until Old Trafford I felt that Ashley Giles would almost certainly return to the side as soon as he's fit, but I'm starting to have my doubts.
Perhaps even Duncan Fletcher is as well.
Obviously I have been keeping a regular eye on Cricinfo, listening to bits of TMS and I've seen the Sky highlights on the first two evenings, so I have a good idea of what's gone on.
It was great to see Alastair Cook get another hundred, but even better to watch Ian Bell do so, especially when it sounded (and looked) like his best innings for England.
After watching Cook score 89 against Sri Lanka at Lord's in May (and having seen his debut in Nagpur on television) I started telling people that I thought he was going to be England's next truly great batsman. During and after his Lord's century against Pakistan I started to wonder if I'd got a bit too excited, but I now think I got it about right. There's a poise, style and maturity of temperament about Cook that is truly remarkable, and, as he already has a sound defence and a wide range of strokes which will get better, it's a case, for the next ten or twelve years, of 'look out world'.
Bell I'm just really pleased about. Like most people I've had my eye on him for a few years. First saw him play for England Under-19s in the late nineties, knew what Dayle Hadlee had said about him being the best sixteen year-old he'd ever seen, saw his unbeaten 65 in the 2002 Benson and Hedges final, waited for him to do it for England. Saw the assured debut versus the West Indies, the boot-filling against Bangladesh, the struggles against Australia and the intermittent runs during last winter.
I remained a believer, but just a few weeks ago a group of 'Cricket Writers on TV' (couldn't anyone think of a more original title?) were discussing their doubts about his temperament and wondering if he really had it in him to succeed at the highest level.
I can't be sure as I've never got anywhere near meeting him, but Bell does give an impression of diffidence. This doesn't, however, mean that he can't bat. In most cases (and the exceptions are widely known), true quality will always reveal itself, and that is what is now happening with Bell.
I never saw him play as a real junior but, seeing him walk out now it doesn't take a great leap of the imagination to see him as a tiny thirteen year-old, the sort of kid who looks as though he's not sure he should be there but goes on to bat like a dream. His technique isn't completely perfect (there's still work to be done around and outside off stump for sure) but it isn't at all bad to be going on with.
And nor are his runs.
Whether or not he's there it's becoming increasingly hard to see England retaining the Ashes. One short-term compensation: Ian Bell should stay in the side. He deserves to.
On Friday an 18 year-old leg-spinner called Adil Rashid took 6 for 67 on his debut to bowl Yorkshire to an innings victory over Warwickshire at Scarborough.
For more years than I care to remember people have been wondering when Yorkshire would have a regular, successful player from the county's vast Asian community.
Maybe Rashid is the man.
Both matches were played at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff. On Thursday England were comprehensively beaten and yesterday they managed to make a much better fist of things although they still ended up losing by one wicket in the final over.
Overall, India, though the younger of the two sides, looked much the more mature and streetwise. England clearly had some decent talent but looked a bit over-coached and formulaic in their approach. The England batsmen seemed to spend most of their time (especially in the first game) hitting the ball straight to fielders. The Indian batsmen showed a far greater willingness to improvise, their bowlers bowled with more accuracy and penetration than England's, and their fielding was sharper, certainly on Thursday.
From the Indian side it will be a surprise if much more is not heard of Ishant Sharma, a very tall right-arm seamer from Delhi, and Parvez Aziz, an attacking opener from Assam.
The England side appeared to be conspicuously lacking in any really outstanding talent, but the Middlesex seamer Steven Finn, England's youngest player, shaped up well at the death yesterday. The Northants slow left-armer Graeme White bowled relatively economically in both games, and Steven Mullaney, from Lancashire, appeared to have something about him. And Varun Chopra, the captain, has been shaping up well for Essex this season, so all is not lost.
As David Lloyd rightly said in commentary, the standard of national junior sides can fluctuate markedly from season to season according to the talent available, and it'll be a major surprise if this side produces the number of senior internationals (Trescothick, Flintoff, McGrath, Solanki, Ben Hollioake, et al) that the team that Lloyd himself was involved with in the mid-nineties did.
However, with the advent of the academy, I've no doubt that the system which exists for developing players after they've passed through the age group sides is better than it was then, so many of the current players will be better placed to improve than their counterparts in past sides.
And, of course, many players will come through who aren't currently considered good enough to be selected for the under-nineteens.
Just ask the current England captain.
It is superb. If you're ever stuck for somewhere to eat in that area, look no further (and say you saw it here first).
I couldn't help him but I was left wondering how he knew that I was interested in rugby. I think I might have been reading the cricket pages of a newspaper at the time so he made what turned out to be an accurate assumption about my range of sporting interests.
I found out later (and I assume he did too) that Australia had won the match 49-0.
It's mildly comforting to know that there's an international side that's possibly in even worse shape than Andy Robinson's England.
Andy Robinson's England? A topic I may return to...
Some pictures from the Lord's Test:
1. Collingwood and Cook leave the field at close of play on the first day
2. Ian Bell shows 'the maker's name' to Shahid Afridi on Friday
3. Bell and Collingwood leave the field at lunch on Friday
4. Collingwood acknowledges the applause of the members after his dismissal on Friday afternoon
5. Alastair Cook fields in front of a packed grandstand on Saturday
6. The Pakistan balcony unites to applaud Mohammad Yousuf off the field after his 202
7. Inzamam and Abdul Razzaq leave the field at the end of the game
As Mike Atherton said during the presentations, 'the pitch was the winner', with Mick Hunt's strip proving too good for two depleted bowling attacks, but the batsmen of both sides were only too happy to fill their boots. The game also represented a missed opportunity for England, who, although victory without Flintoff was always unlikely, would have given themselves a better chance by pushing on and declaring before the close on Sunday. Their caution betrayed their lack of confidence without Flintoff and you have to hope that he remains fit well into the future, both for his obvious qualities with bat and ball and because he'll hopefully prove a less cautious captain than Strauss. Then again, you can only captain with what you have, and captaincy will always be made easier for Flintoff by the fact he'll have himself in his side.
There was much to enjoy throughout the five days, beginning with the partnership of contrasts between Paul Collingwood and Alastair Cook on the first afternoon. Cook the public schoolboy whose gilded progress to the national side has followed an apparently inevitable path since he was a young teenager, Collingwood the gritty and self-possessed man of Durham who's conquered the doubts of many to carve a niche for himself in the Test side to go with his indispensable slot in the one day team.
I just like Cook. Although his hundred was quite a scratchy affair, aided by a series of dropped catches, there's something reassuring and utterly classical about his presence at the crease. His best strokes - especially the on-drive - bear the mark of a very special player indeed. While it's certain that his career will hit the rocks at some point he seems likely to go to Australia as England's number three and I'll be happy to see him there.
Although a long-time admirer of Collingwood's durable temperament (never better illustrated than by his vital innings in support of Pietersen on the last day The Oval last year), I could never really see him as a Test batsman. I'm very happy to have been proved wrong (for the time being at least), and, although the Pakistan attack was never very menacing, his 186 was an innings full of well-selected and executed strokes until he got slightly bogged down prior to his dismissal after lunch on the second day.
Also, as Will Luke quite rightly says here
he must be the finest fielder England have ever had. I remember Derek Randall well, and, while he was quicker over the ground than Colly and perhaps a slightly more accurate thrower at the stumps, Collingwood's ability to stop virtually anything on the ground and consistently take catches which defy belief give him the edge.
Having spent most of Friday watching from in front of the pavilion I happened to choose the minutes prior to the first two wickets of the Pakistan first innings to walk round behind the Warner Stand to buy an ice cream. While eating said ice cream I watched the game from the back of the stand and had a more dramatic view of Collingwood's latest brilliant catch than I would have had in the pavilion. However, I was further away, and at first I wasn't sure who had taken it. I can't think why, though, as he seems to do things like that all the time.
I also enjoyed Ian Bell's hundred immensely. He's someone I've consistently supported, even when he was struggling against Australia last year, and while he often appears diffident and lacking in the inclination (but surely not the ability) to really dominate an attack (although he was just showing signs of opening up when Strauss ran him out in the second innings) he's worth having around the side for the beautiful purity and adroitness of his technique. Although he'll probably lose his place once Flintoff returns, he's put himself ahead of Key and Shah in the race for Australia.
Strauss batted as well as we know Strauss can on Sunday, which is very well indeed. His captaincy was okay, although, as I've said, I would have liked to have seen a much earlier declaration and more confidence in his use of Panesar in both innings. I feel that England have a potentially world-class spinner in Panesar and both Strauss and Flintoff have occasionally appeared reluctant to give him the really long spells from which he would surely benefit. This is even more surprising given how insipid much of England's seam bowling was, especially on the last day. Harmison bowled well at times in the first innings (and is Harmison, after all), so he can be allowed some latitude, but Plunkett was disappointing. All that can be said about him is that the raw material in terms of physique, action and temperament appears to be there (as well as the odd excellent delivery), but he's probably suffering through having to 'grow up' as a bowler in Test rather than county cricket. Let's hope for better.
Finally, I'm happy to acknowledge that Geraint Jones kept very well. But he still didn't get any significant runs, and his understandable lack of confidence conspired with the Pakistan attack and Inzamam's field placings to reduce England's momentum on the fourth afternoon, just when they needed somebody to increase it. However, the longer he stays in the side the more certain it is that he won't be dropped. With the number of injuries that have afflicted England over the last year this feels increasingly like a period of transition, and, as Jones is now one of the more experienced members of the side, the selectors are less and less likely to want to replace him before (or in) Australia.
On the Pakistan side, Mohammad Yousuf, for so long someone you took for granted in their middle order, was neat, tidy and majestically classy. Amazing what a change of religion, name and shaving habits, as well as a huge stack of runs, can do for you.
Inzamam never changes. I first saw him bat live when he made a superb 148 on the first day at Lord's ten years ago, and he simply has more time to play than virtually anybody else I've ever seen. One day he might actually fail to reach fifty against England.
Also, although his figures show how difficult he found bowling at Lord's, I was quietly impressed by Umar Gul. There wasn't a huge amount going on at the business end of the pitch, but I love the smoothness and rhythm of his approach and have a feeling that more may be heard of him, providing he can retain his place in the Pakistan attack once Shoaib, Naved-ul-Hasan and Mohammad Asif are fit.
All in all it was a game with a slightly old-fashioned tempo, but it was no less enjoyable for that. Mind you, I'm not sure whether the bloke who spent some (but not much) of his time sitting next to me on the first day would agree. Turned up at 11.30. Sat down. Watched the cricket for five minutes. Checked his Blackberry. Watched the cricket for ten minutes and applauded a few Andrew Strauss fours before quipping that 'They'll have 200 by lunch at this rate'. Checked his Blackberry. Disappeared for two hours. Came back, watched about twenty minutes' cricket and left.
There's no pleasing some people.
Not much time to write anything about the First Test between England and Pakistan, as I leave for London (and the game) in the morning and am busy getting everything together.
All I can say is that I hope it'll be an interesting game and an equally compelling series and that the England team's two outstanding newcomers of the past six months - Alastair Cook and Monty Panesar, in case you didn't know - can once again reaffirm their potential.
These pictures show Cook batting against Murali in the Test against Sri Lanka at Lord's in May, and Panesar bowling at Worcester in June.
Sure, I'm biased towards Chris Read - I first saw him play for Devon when he was 16 and I've always rated him as a keeper (although he's not quite as good as many people seem to think).
Everything suggests, though, that hell will freeze over before Duncan Fletcher will countenance the dropping of Geraint Jones, who, even if one charitably admits that his glovework has improved, must be one of the worst keepers ever to play for England, and who, now that his runs have dried up, has lost his main reason for being in the side.
Go on, Duncan, surprise me.
And, if you don't (as I'm sure you won't), perhaps Geraint can surprise me by scoring some serious runs (and keeping well) at Lord's. England might need them.
Well, I try to avoid being fashionable in most areas of my life, but, in this case, I agree.
The competition has removed the often tedious middle overs seen in longer limited over games, giving rise to shorter, more punchy, and frequently more exciting matches.
I haven't been to a game and I don't intend to. My nearest county ground is 40 minutes' drive away and I don't feel like driving for more than an hour there and back to see about three hours' cricket. But, when you get home from work and you're happy just to collapse on the sofa and watch some six-hitting, Twenty20 fits the bill very nicely. Also, while most of us expected when the competition started that batsmen would be reliant on slogging, the majority now play in relatively orthodox fashion, and it has expanded many players' awareness of what they're capable of, both individually and collectively.
In the last couple of weeks we've seen superb innings from Justin Langer, Cameron White, Ronnie Irani, Sourav Ganguly and Mike Yardy, and brilliant catches from Arul Suppiah, Tim Phillips and Simon Marshall. Not much bowling there, but, as Angus Fraser will never miss an opportunity to tell you, 'it's a batsman's game'.
It is also genuinely nostalgic, exciting and just a little moving to see such large crowds on county grounds, especially the huge percentage of children. If just a few are hooked (and they will be) the game's future is surely secure.Another benefit is that counties are using the competition to blood young players. One of the most significant appearances of the week was that of the 17 year-old Middlesex batsman Billy Godleman, who made a self-possessed and stylish 41 against Essex at Chelmsford to emphasize the unusual talent which those who have followed his progress through the England age-group sides have been aware of for a few years. Middlesex's Irish teenager Eoin Morgan was also impressive, confirming the promise he showed when I saw him in Middlesex's recent Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy win over Somerset at Bath.
I confidently predict that a lot more will be heard of them both.
He has all the assets you look for in a young seam bowler - a technically sound and well-grooved action, enough pace to hit the bat hard (although he won't frighten anyone at international level), the ability to move the ball, based on a consistently excellent seam position, and, perhaps most importantly, more than a hint of 'attitude'. It is this - as exemplified by the way he came back to take Sarwan's wicket after he had repeatedly been hit for four by him - which leads me to believe that he'll be around for longer than many others who've had first use of the Indian new ball over the years. Throw in the raw-boned and pacy Munaf Patel, who was so impressive against England earlier in the year, and Irfan Pathan (although he has work to do after a surprising dip in pace and form), and things look good for India's future.
Sreesanth is also an interesting figure because of where he comes from. Traditionally one of India's weaker states, Kerala had only produced one Test player before Sreesanth. Tinu Yohannan was another seamer who made his debut against England in India in late 2001 but faded from the scene very quickly.
I think we'll see and hear a bit more of Sreesanth.
'Two pints of that stuff and you're marching on Poland'
In recent weeks, though, he's managed to claw himself back to some sort of form, making Championship centuries against Somerset at Taunton and Northants at Worcester.
I was fortunate enough to see both innings and the contrasts between the two were instructive. In the first, on a classic Taunton shirtfront, he initially played with studied circumspection, his hesitancy reflecting his lack of form and confidence. This was an ageing player trying hard to rage against the dying of the light but unsure about whether he still had the technical and emotional resources to do so. However, as the innings built, he became much more fluent, pulling his erstwhile England colleague Andy Caddick for two huge sixes late on the first day, and, on the second, going on to make 182 and share in a record Worcestershire fourth wicket partnership of 330 with Ben Smith, who made 203.
A fortnight later, back on the familiar territory of New Road, he came to the wicket on a cold, breezy day to join the rock-solid and run-hungry Australian left-hander Phil Jaques with Worcestershire 139-3. This time Hick looked more positive and confident from the start, and, once he was past fifty (with Jaques steaming ahead at the other end on the way to a brilliant 202), he unfurled a few shots which reminded everyone on the ground of what he used to be and what he could have become. The best of these was an on-drive off the back foot off one of the Northants seamers which ran to the Diglis End boundary boards like a shot from a gun. As the crowd applauded it was trite and obvious but irresistible to think of how many times he had played such shots in the past, especially in his brilliant youth, and to wonder how long he would continue to do so. Hick finished the first day on 93 not out, going on to reach his 100th century for the county early on the second day before taking his score to 139.
He's older and a bit slower now, bats at five, but the intrinsic qualities which once made him the world's greatest batsman-in-waiting are still there: a sound defence coupled with brutal and dismissive attacking shots all round the wicket. Also, although Hick's years of struggle in international cricket and the passage of time have removed the aura of invulnerability which he once commanded, you can't escape the feeling that, even to the likes of Monty Panesar, who was a Luton toddler when he started making centuries at New Road, he can still be pretty scary from 22 yards away.
Hick and I go back a long way. I first became aware of his name in 1984, when he came to Worcester on a scholarship and made a series of huge scores for the second eleven. Feeling that something quite special might be going on I got in touch with Worcestershire and the club he was then attached to, Kidderminster, with the intention of writing something about him. By a roundabout route I eventually came into contact with his parents, who proudly supplied me with pages of statistics relating to his early school and club cricket in Zimbabwe. The article I had conceived was published in late 1986, by which time he had stamped his mark indelibly on the collective consciousness of the county game. I first saw him play at Worcester in 1988, the season in which he made his epic 405 not out at Taunton (I was revising for my university finals but didn't get a lot of work done that afternoon) on the way to a thousand runs by the end of May, eventually qualified to play for England in 1991, and the rest, sadly, is history.
A difficult start against the West Indies was followed by an intermittently successful but frequently uneasy international career, with Hick all too often giving off the air of a man distracted by his inability to live up to other people's expectations of him. While his technique and especially his somewhat fragile temperament were ultimately exposed at the highest level I believe that it would be wrong to think that he was never as good as he was cracked up to be.
The Hick of the late eighties was a magnificent beast, one of the most dominant batsmen English county cricket has seen in the post-war period. It is this player, not the diffident figure blasted out of the crease by a succession of the world's best pace bowlers of the early nineties, that I like to remember. The best thing about the two recent innings was that, for a period in each, you could almost believe you were back in the time before it all fell away.
Interviewed on TMS by Jonathan Agnew last weekend Hick was unusually forthcoming and interesting. At the moment I think that it is unlikely that he will retire at the end of this season and it should be possible to see him around the country again in 2007.
Take the opportunity while you can.
When I'm not playing, watching, talking or thinking about cricket I do the same with rugby union.
I'll be writing about what's on my mind at the time I write. Giving my views on whatever or whoever's making the news in either sport, perhaps reflecting on some players, games or issues from the past and hopefully producing something which someone, somewhere, will enjoy reading.
Thanks for reading this far.
Now read on.