'I believe I'm the best keeper-batsman'
It's been a long and winding road to England colours for Geraint Jones. Born in Papua New Guinea to Welsh parents, and then raised in Australia, Jones was picked as a wicketkeeper-batsman for the winter tours of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and West Indies. He was Chris Read's understudy for the majority of the time, but was picked for the final and fourth Test in Antigua and given an assurance that he will be given a run in the Test side this summer. He spoke to Freddie Auld:
Congratulations on your Test cap. Did you think you were going to get a chance to play during the West Indies tour?
At the start, I thought I might get a chance in the third or fourth Test, but because we won the first three, I didn't think the selectors would make any changes. They say never change a winning team, and Chris [Read] was playing very well. It was clear that my role was to support him, and to impress when I got the chance. It was a nice surprise when it happened.
How and when did you find out you would be playing?
It was at a net session two days before the Test. Vaughany [Michael Vaughan] came up to me and told me I was playing. He didn't say much else, but that's typical Vaughany. He just told me to focus, be positive, and do my best. He's not a massive talker. He leaves it to you to get on with it.
How did you keep yourself focused during the early stages of the West Indies tour?
Winning helped to move the tour along. It kept us all upbeat and a happy bunch. I just concentrated in training and hoped I would get a chance. I played in the warm-up game in Barbados and was pleased to get 66. That game gave me something to focus on, as I knew if I did well, it would do me no harm in pushing my name forward.
Did you know many - or any - of the rest of the squad?
Well, I was with them in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as well, but I hadn't played against many of them, so the first few weeks in Bangladesh were quite tough as I was slightly out on my own. But we all got to know each other in the gym and in training, and the biggest thing I noticed was how well we all got on, and how we all backed each other to do well.
How did you feel before your Test debut?
I was quite nervous. To be honest, I was quite happy to be fielding first. It helped to get the nerves out the way with the gloves. I admit I lost a few hours' sleep, but once it was underway I loved it and I felt a real sense of belonging.
A lot of people said it was hard on Chris Read to be dropped. Did it cause any friction between the two of you?
Not at all, definitely not. We spent a lot of time together in the gym and working in training. I always made sure I was there for him when he was playing, and he did the same for me. When it was announced, we had a chat and I said "Sorry mate, I don't really know what to say." But he was adamant there was nothing I needed to say, and he told me to go out and do well. He was very supportive.
|I immediately loved it in England and really felt like I belonged|
What was it like being behind the stumps during Brian Lara's 400 not out?
Well, I wasn't expecting quite such a lengthy intro to Test cricket behind the stumps! We were out there for over 200 overs, but at least I can say that I experienced it, and I know what to expect in the future. It was noticeable that even once he got to 100 and 150, he wanted to get a massive score. To score 400 is obviously remarkable, and he didn't alter his tempo at all. He knew exactly what he was doing.
So when it came to your turn to bat, how did you feel?
I was just keen to get off the mark at first. I didn't want a duck on my debut, so my nerves really showed in my first ten balls. I was keen to get up the other end and I played a few rash shots until my first run. Under the circumstances, I was pleased with 38. Freddie [Andrew Flintoff] and myself had to bat for quite a while, because if one of us got out, it would have given West Indies a chance. It was just great to get out there. After a while I felt relaxed, especially batting with Freddie. I loved every minute of it.
Was the experience of that one Test totally different to what you had experienced in county cricket?
The pressure and the crowd were the big things I noticed. And the way everything you did was highlighted in such detail. But it's all about how you come to terms with the pressure, and how it affects you. I love the pressure situations - I usually do well in them as I am able to come to terms with them quickly. I can't wait for the first Test match.
What made you decide to move from Australia to England?
Originally, there wasn't a lot going on in Australia. I was playing club cricket and working for a computer company, so I thought I would go for a season in England and do something positive. I immediately loved it over here and felt I belonged. I played in Bristol in 1998, for Abergavenny in 1999 and then trialled with Kent in 2000 before going professional fulltime.
Did you ever consider playing for Australia?
Not really. I knew Ian Healy and Adam Gilchrist would be the first-choice keepers, and I never felt an opportunity would come. I figured there was not much chance of getting in the team, and had I stayed, it would have been doing something that I wouldn't really want to have done.
What's the cricket like in Papua New Guinea?
Well, not that great. They had an ICC qualifying game recently, but I don't think it was that successful. I usually keep an eye out in the papers when they're playing in tournaments, though.
Do you think your Australian background gave you an advantage when included in the England squad?
I don't think so. I was a bit sceptical at first about how I would be taken when I came to England, especially with my Australian accent. But everyone's been great, especially the Kent boys, who were really supportive when I was picked to tour. Also I've come on so much since I arrived at Kent. People in Australia couldn't believe how much I had improved when I turned professional. I guess my Aussie background may have helped the way I play, with my attacking and positive nature, but I don't think it gave me a huge advantage.
Do you enjoy playing county cricket?
Yeah, I love it. It's what I've experienced the most and I love playing. I've really enjoyed being back in the Kent dressing-room since I returned from the Caribbean. I enjoy every game.
Do you think county cricket is good for the England national team?
County cricket is progressing into a good competition. I think having two overseas players has helped improve standards, and there is a good young England squad with lots of talent coming through. The Twenty20 Cup is helping one-day cricket, and the Championship is producing quality players.
Looking ahead to the summer, have you been told you will have a run in the side?
The days of a keeper just filling in here and there are gone. Chris played in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and if I got the chance, I was told I would get the same opportunity as him. It's good to know my Test in Antigua wasn't a one-off. Both Duncan [Fletcher] and Vaughany told me I'd get a good run.
Does that put extra pressure on you?
I know I'll be under the biggest spotlight. There's a huge amount of media pressure, and there's only room for one keeper in every side. The spotlight will be on my batting, and I'll be under pressure to score runs. But I'm prepared for it, and know I can contribute and get on the following winter tour.
Would you say your batting is better than your keeping?
I've worked hard on my keeping, and I'd say they're about even. My batting is a strong point for me, but my keeping doesn't fall far behind. It's part of my nature to work hard. I love practising. No-one's perfect, and I strive to be better, but I do believe I'm the best batsman-keeper in the country.
How do you see England's summer going?
New Zealand are a tough team. They've done well over the years, and that series will be more of a battle than the West Indies games. However, I'm confident we can use our success in the West Indies and win, but it will be a close affair.
Would you like to be involved in the one-day game?
It's definitely an area I want to get a chance in. I feel I have a lot to offer in the middle order. But the selectors pick what they think is the best team, and it's going to be tough to dislodge Chris. However, at the moment, I'm concentrating on establishing myself in the Test team, and I hope to be there for the rest of my career.