October 9, 2003

Geraint Jones finds an England blazer suits him

Some years ago, then government minister Norman Tebbit caused a certain amount of political uproar by declaring that immigrants should be judged on their allegiance to this country by passing the cricket test. If someone, originally from Pakistan, South Africa or wherever but a naturalised Englishman, supported his native country in a Test match against England, their loyalty to their new homeland had to be questioned.

By the same yardstick, there is no doubting the allegiance of Geraint Jones, England's new wicket-keeper on the tour to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He might have been born in Papua New Guinea and speaks with an accent that betrays the fact that he was raised in Australia, but he passes the rugby test with flying colours. And the colours in question are those of his father Emrys from Blaenau Ffestiniog.

Asked which team he will be supporting in rugby World Cup, Jones replied: "Well, I'll be supporting Wales, but I don't think they'll get very far, so come the knock-out stages I think I might have to resort to my second team: England."

For one terrible moment it seemed inevitable that his second team was going to be Australia. However, the man wearing the three lions and the crown on his new blazer got the answer right. Wales and then England makes it quite clear that he is made of the right stuff.

As his pedigree would suggest, Jones has had a varied background. He was brought up in Queensland but at the age of 18 came over to England to play club cricket for Lydney in Gloucestershire. He then returned to Australia to further his cricketing education at the Academy, then to Clevedon in Bristol followed by two years with Abergavenny.

Eventually his odyssey took him to Kent where his prowess as a wicket-keeper/batsmen was one reason why the county did not do more to prevent the departure of Paul Nixon, who had himself been a number two on tour with England. Given the chance of a regular spot in the first-team, Jones took it comfortably in both gloves.

He began last season having played in only five first-class matches but boasting a batting average of 41.75 and with six catches to his name. In 2003 he scored 985 runs at an average of 44.77 and took 54 catches and five stumpings. It was the sort of form to attract the selectors when looking for a second wicket-keeper to go on tour.

Chris Read has been named as the number one, but on a tour to the sub-continent, who knows what might happen. Certainly that is the way Jones himself is looking at it. "Chris is going as number one and he deserves it the way he performed in the one-day side in the summer," he said, "but my aim is to be a Test keeper and I'll be pushing him all the way.

"I'm just pleased to have got a chance because there are a lot of young keepers pressing and it's good to have been included in the squad and so get a little bit closer to the team itself."

Jones himself has strong views on the current glut of players appearing in county on the back of European passports. He does not feel that he belongs in the same category. "I think it's entirely different when counties go looking to recruit established players with a passport. It was not like that with me."

Rather than Kent going looking for him, he made the approach when he found good young keepers playing for Glamorgan while he was with Abergavenny. Kent had a look, liked what they saw, and now they find themselves with a possible successor to the long line of genuine wicket-keeping all-rounders that the county has supplied to England. Perhaps one day they will have to add the name of Geraint Jones to a list that includes Les Ames, Godfrey Evans and Alan Knott.