County cricket 2013 July 2, 2013

History repeating for Kent keepers?

Geraint Jones has been left out of Kent's Twenty20 in favour of Sam Billings, who must now use the chance to fulfil the long-held 'promising' tag

At the halfway point of the season, things do not look especially rosy in Canterbury. Winless in the Championship, effectively out of contention in the YB40 and defeated in our first two Twenty20 games.

Yet, there have been glimmers of hope - two encouraging rearguards in recent Championship matches; steady progress from youngsters Adam Riley, Callum Haggett and Daniel Bell-Drummond and some of the best batting I have ever seen from Sam Northeast and Darren Stevens to chase down a record 337 to beat Sussex in the YB40. Stevens equalled Mark Ealham's record of a 44-ball century (though, being superstitious, I'm worried that Ealham hit his 44-baller in 1995, the last time we finished bottom of the Championship).

Such an incredible win made me hope for more from the Friends Life t20, especially with Vernon Philander in town. He has now played six T20 games in 2013, here and for his South African franchise, and lost all of them, which might give a clue why South Africa don't play him in their limited-overs side. Yet, 4 for 8 in his first spell at Canterbury suggested they are missing a trick.

Disappointing as the performances are, the real talking point is the decision to drop Geraint Jones. A week earlier, Jones had been standing in for James Tredwell as captain, but now finds himself out of the side. In his place was Sam Billings, who made an outstanding century in front of the Sky cameras last summer, but has not nailed a first-team spot. There have been rumours circulating that Billings was unhappy at his lack of chances.

Easing young wicketkeepers into the side is never easy - and Kent are not the only county with this exact dilemma. Allowing Billings a guaranteed spot in one format seems a sensible compromise.

However, this was not a planned change. Instead, Jones' Twitter account suggests he only found out a day before, adding, "Wasn't any of my prior arrangements to not play 20/20". Jones hopes to be recalled for the next Championship game, but clearly does not know if he will get his spot back.

Ruthless calls sometimes need to be made - but to outsiders the handling of this situation looks unimpressive. Jones remains utterly dedicated, unfailingly courteous and, best of all, is still a thrillingly attacking batsman. After losing his England spot, he played 100 Championship games in a row - he may have been born in Papau New Guinea, but no-one is more qualified to call themselves a 'Man Of Kent'. His is not the sort of character to toss away lightly.

So what of the man who comes into the side? Billings was awarded the annual trophy presented by the Supporters Club to our most promising uncapped player earlier in June. However, already 22, he is in danger of passing the age where it is acceptable to be labelled 'promising' with little experience to fall back on. To date, he has played just six first-class games, mostly against the Universities and touring sides.

Compare that to two of Billings' peers. Adam Wheater (23) has played 58 first-class games, has four hundreds and is now first choice at Hampshire*. Jos Buttler (22) has already played 37 times for England. That means Billings is some way off even being selected for the England Lions.

Jones must understand that. After all, he was in this exact position himself. A decade ago, his batting had already won limited-overs games for Kent, but Paul Nixon was inevitably selected as keeper ahead of him. In 2003, Kent sacked Nixon and installed Jones as first choice. You could argue the decision was harsh and Nixon played on for nine more years at Leicestershire.

Shouldn't Jones, the young pretender, have moved elsewhere? Indeed, many made that exact argument... until they saw Jones bat. He scored heavily in his first full season, looking at his best whenever Kent were in trouble, and by the next summer, was England's first choice (again replacing a popular figure in Chris Read).

Those of us angry at how Jones appears to have been treated might reflect on that. How Kent choose to manage the competing claims of Jones and Billings offers an intriguing sub-plot to what will otherwise be a forgettable season.

*July 3, 13.45 GMT - This has been corrected. The original said Wheater played for Essex.

Kent fan Ben Howarth first became a junior member in 1995. He tweets here