England wicketkeeper Geraint Jones is about to provide coach Duncan Fletcher with his biggest selection problem during his five years in charge of Team England.

The Kent wicketkeeper's shoddy glovework showed no improvement in South Africa and the time is rapidly approaching when Jones' biggest fan will come under enormous pressure from co-selectors to review what is one of the most crucial positions in England's Ashes series.

Jones' debut in Antigua 12 months ago caused huge ripples among the England hierarchy for two reasons; Chris Read had not put a glove out of place in the first three Tests in the Caribbean and chairman of selectors David Graveney, Rodney March and the other co-selector, Geoff Miller, were not consulted before the decision was made by Fletcher and Michael Vaughan.

Even the normally diplomatic Graveney admitted that communications might have been better.

The management rationale was that Read's batting was lightweight in comparison and, rightly, could not be trusted to bat above No 8, whereas the Papua New Guinea-born Jones, who learned his teenage cricket in Australia, looked good enough to bat at seven and thus give space for a fifth bowler.

The modern game demands that a specialist keeper who cannot bat is a luxury but, with the possible exception of Keith Andrew, Bruce French and Bob Taylor in the last 50 years, England have always gone for the keeper with the best batting credentials.

Fair enough - but only if the glovework is acceptable, which that of Jones is clearly not. Figures can often be made to prove almost anything, dependent upon interpretation, but an analysis of the Test records of Jones and Read shows a disturbing trend.

Jones has played 13 times for England compared with 11 by Read, with these results.


I 19; No 1; Runs 574; 50 3; 100 1 Ave 31.89; C 43; St 2.


I 16; No 3; Runs 199; HS 38no, Ave 15.31; C 31; St 4.

Case proven? Definitely not. Read missed nothing in the West Indies but Jones' year in possession has been littered with clumsy missed chances - four catches in South Africa and seven altogether in his 13 Tests, plus a stumping and at least one run-out because of faulty positioning.

Worst of all is that at least three of those missed catches were standing back punchouts, revealing a lack of understanding with his first slip.

Chuck in 138 byes and it all adds up to a pretty untidy package but supporters of Jones should not claim that he has not been helped by variable surfaces.

The pitches in Kingston,Trinidad, and Barbados were very much up-and-down but Read conceded only one bye and was always a focal inspiration to his fieldsmen. He would clean up erratic throws from the boundary with no fuss and nothing bounced out of gloves which always gave the impression of the ball melting into them.

In other words, he has a soft pair of hands but those of Jones are "hard" as typified by his punchy batting technique.

Now for the seemingly unanswerable advantage Jones has because his England batting average is double that of Read.

It means that Jones scores 16 more runs per innings and, assuming seven or eight innings in a five-match series (it might be ten this summer) the Kent man gives his side at least 130 runs more than his predecessor.

BUT, and it is quite a big one, how is that difference properly quantified to take into account the debit side of the ledger dealing with missed chances?

For instance, if he drops any of the Australian top five on nought and the lucky batsman scored a hundred, the profit is gone and the course of the match changed, probably beyond recall.

What is in Jones' favour is that when he tops 50 he does it in such a positive fashion that he can turn the tide of an innings - and possibly the match - in a way Read cannot.

Fletcher will argue that his aggressive approach to cricket has a knock-on effect throughout the side. No England supporter would ever complain at watching a pairing of Andrew Flintoff and Jones at six and seven with the innings wobbling at, say, 140 for five in an Ashes Test. They will see two cricketers who are prepared to fight fire with fire.

Not that it is just a battle between Jones and Read. If the batsman-keeper mantra is maintained, then Sussex's Matthew Prior had a good tour with England A, and Glamorgan's Mark Wallace is only 23 and bats in the top order.

Jones is desperate to hold on to this place and is under expert guidance to try to improve his game. The next few weeks are vital for him and for Fletcher. He has already shelled out a few chances this summer but is bound to start against Bangladesh later next month.

He will also play in the ten-match triangular tournament although it is doubtful if the experiment of him opening the batting will be continued after his moderate return in South Africa.

As the song says, "The whole world is talking about the Jones Boy."

If he can prove his point, Fletcher will be a relieved man.