The glovemen are off
The third day at Lord's was a good one for wicketkeepers. Or rather, it was a good one for the two wicketkeepers who have been selected for this match. For the species as a whole, however, the day had rather more dispiriting overtones. Today's outstanding batting performances from Geraint Jones and Brendon McCullum were yet more nails in the coffin of the specialist gloveman.
Until mid-March, neither Jones nor McCullum had played Test cricket, and until this morning, neither had enjoyed an especially successful time in this match. McCullum's first overseas innings had lasted seven balls, while Jones's glovework had been disturbingly error-strewn on his home debut, as he let nine byes slip through his grasp. As a performance, it paled in comparison with Chris Read's efforts in the Caribbean, and you could almost hear Rod Marsh tut-tutting in the stands.
But by this evening, the case for the prosecution had been, quite literally, cut to ribbons. Jones's 46 was an innings of such pocket-battleship assurance that even Andrew Flintoff was forced to take a back seat in their partnership, while McCullum's 72 not out was his third fifty in seven Test innings. It may yet turn into something even more memorable tomorrow morning.
New Zealand visits to Lord's have been synonymous with wicketkeeping ever since 1986, when the last of England's great specialists, Bob Taylor, was hauled out of the hospitality tent and back into action, two years after his retirement. But if the aplomb of Jones and McCullum's performances are anything to go by, it will be a while before the keeper in either team is ousted. Both England and New Zealand have struggled in recent years to find adequate replacements for Alec Stewart and Adam Parore, but the search might now be over - at least until either man drops a regulation nick at a crucial moment of the series.
If makeshift wicketkeepers are de rigueur at the moment, then so too, it seems, are makeshift openers. At the crease, Mark Richardson is every inch the stereotypical kiwi - the bird, that is: slow, flightless, and apparently vulnerable to all predators - particularly six-foot ones with a penchant for the short ball. But he has an instinct for survival that would do Shrek the sheep, the merino who evaded the shearers for six years, proud. His charmingly grotty innings of 46 not out from 120 balls has taken his match tally to a whopping 139 from 386 balls, and New Zealand to a position from which they should not lose this match.
Even Richardson, however, had enough bloodlust to his game to sense a vulnerable opponent, and with a smeared four over long-off, he played his part in hastening the end of Ashley Giles's gritty but increasingly tenuous hold on the England spinner's position.
Giles entered the attack rather earlier than the 72nd over this time around, but he was trudging back to the outfield after leaking 23 runs in just four overs. England need wickets tomorrow morning, and lots of them, if they are to get back into the game, so it is improbable that Giles will add to his tally of nine overs in this match. With the Headingley Test fast approaching, he may need to emulate Jones and McCullum, and revert to his batting skills, if he is to get his head off the chopping block this time.