Debate Or No Debate?

I haven't been around for a few days and already things have moved on. As anyone with enough interest in cricket to be here will know, England duly lost to John Howard's team in Canberra and have since moved on to Sydney where they are currently making a slightly better fist of a three-day game against New South Wales. I don't think it was necessary to lose too much sleep over the Prime Minister's game as it's normal for England touring sides to struggle in the early stages of tours, although, as the preparation time before the first Test in Brisbane is so short (with just four playing days left), it's been good to see that things have gone better at the SCG.

I was amused to hear Andrew Strauss's sideways reference the other day to the fact that 'Gatt's team' (the successful 1986-87 party led by Mike Gatting) were described as having only three things wrong with them before the first Test of that series - 'they can't bat, they can't bowl and they can't field'. Strauss used this as an example of the type of jibe that's traditionally wheeled out by the Australian press when England teams arrive on their shores but he had clearly forgotten (or, as he was just nine at the time, probably never knew) that that famous aside was penned by an English journalist, Martin Johnson, who made his name with The Independent in the late eighties by employing a deft range of sarcastic wit.

But that's beside the point. Of far greater significance in the overall scheme of things is the fact that Fletcher came out and confirmed what most people had assumed already, namely that an early decision had been taken that Geraint Jones was going to go into the series (and doubtless finish it) as the England wicket-keeper. I wouldn't want to say that I told you so, but I always had the feeling (and wrote so here) that Chris Read was selected for the final two Tests of the English summer despite rather than because of Fletcher, and I always felt that Jones would be back for Brisbane. Of course, the fact that Jones is felt by Fletcher (and apparently Flintoff) to be the better batsman has been advanced as the reason, but it seems unfair to judge Read on his poor displays with the willow in India when he actually batted quite well (and at least as well as Jones had been doing for the previous year) when he played against Pakistan at Headingley and the Oval. Also, although Jones was ostensibly sent away to score runs for Kent, he didn't do so. This said, I agree with Will Luke at The Corridor that Read's keeping wasn't that great, especially in India, although part of the problem is that a myth grew up around him when he wasn't in the Test side that he was a really exceptional keeper when, although he's a conspicuously more natural gloveman than his rival, he's not, and never will be, a Jack Russell, let alone a Bob Taylor.

I also agree that Jones's more orthodox technique and experience of growing up in Australian conditions make him more likely to make runs in the series.

It's a huge vote of confidence for Jones but he'd better make damn sure he keeps as well as he can and makes some serious runs, or I can see the whole debate starting again by Christmas (although I have no doubt that, in Fletcher's mind, there's no debate). Either way, I tend to take the view that they're both just keeping the seat warm for Steven Davies and, if Jones fails in the Ashes series, we may be seeing him in the side sooner (against West Indies next spring) rather than later.

In the meantime we'll be able to amuse ourselves by going back to thinking about Giles and Panesar. With those two you just know that in Fletcher's mind there is a debate, whereas in the minds of most England followers, there simply isn't.

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