13 November 2006

Bizarre is one word for it!

Firstly, I have to declare an interest: I am a Nottinghamshire Cricket fan, and have been all my life. Readers therefore need to be aware that Chris Read plays for Nottinghamshire!

Secondly, it is a while since I have had a really good rant! So ...

England Cricket coach Duncan Fletcher has announced that Geraint Jones will again be England’s wicket-keeper for the first Ashes test, replacing Chris Read. Fletcher states, somewhat enigmatically, that in his view Jones is “the better package”.

Once again we are being fed the line that Jones is the better batsman of the two. This is still in the realms of theory – in practice Jones has proved himself little better than Read, despite having ample and extended opportunity. No-one (except Jones’ county coach) seriously contends that Jones is the better 'keeper.

What price equality of opportunity? When Jones controversially replaced Read, Fletcher generously guaranteed him an extended run in the team – a run which in fact extended to 31 Tests. The coach kept his protégé in the team until it was absolutely impossible to defend his mediocrity (with gloves or bat) any longer.

Commenting at the time, the BBC Cricket Correspondent Jonathan Agnew expressed a desire for even-handedness:

“It is to be hoped that [Read’s] return comes with the similarly generous guarantee of an extended run that Jones was given in Antigua. “ (Agnew’s article in full is here)

A vain hope!! Chris Read has played 2 (yes, two) Tests before finding himself out of favour with the England hierarchy again – during which he has kept impeccably and scored 38, 55 and 33. Yes, that’s 31 Tests against 2.

Whenever the two players are compared, it is apparent that Fletcher is prepared to excuse any number of wicket-keeping errors by Jones, and yet any minor blemish on the part of Read is magnified as if he were expected to be infallible. Conversely with the bat, Jones can do no wrong – even whilst in reality doing very little of note at all – whilst Read can score as many runs as he likes and still be stigmatised as “unable to bat”.

Anyone watching Chris Read’s performances for Notts, and his 2 Test return to the England team, can see just how ridiculous this jaded assessment of his batting now is!

And yet Mr Fletcher continues to extol his favourite – the “better package”!

Mick Newell, Read’s county coach says that the latest decision to eject Read and re-instate Jones after so little time and with so little evidence is “very bizarre”. [Newell's views reported here]. His restraint (and Chris Read’s, to date) is to be admired. Personally, I have always felt that there is more to it than that.

The truth is that whatever Chris Read does – and he has done remarkably well by any standard over the past 2 years and more – Fletcher will never give him credit.

Whilst Duncan Fletcher is the England coach, Geraint Jones is anointed as the favoured son. However badly he keeps wicket, he is always “working hard”, always “improving”, and he only has to get a few runs, very occasionally, to have his England place guaranteed. I’m sure Fletcher always intended to pick Jones for the Ashes Tests – whatever Chris Read did with his token 2 Tests in the interval.

Bizarre is one word for it.

The BBC's Martin Gough manages a more balanced assessment than I can here. His explanation of the "intriguing" selection process, and of Fletcher's role in it, is particularly informative.

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