Old dog Jones ready for new tricks
At the age of 38, many cricketers have to confront a new challenge. But Geraint Jones is not thinking about retirement just yet: he has just signed a two-year contract with Gloucestershire, and as their Championship captain to boot.
Having waited so long to make a mark on the game - it was not until the age of 26 that he became a regular in first-class cricket for Kent, having moved from Australia at the age of 22 - Jones is in no mood to give it up.
"The fact that I've done various different jobs before cricket definitely has an effect on the way I look at it," Jones says. "I'm very fortunate to have had a career playing a sport I absolutely love - I make an effort not to take that for granted."
As Gloucestershire captain, he will seek to imbue a young squad with a similar mentality. These are not happy times for Gloucestershire. They came third from bottom in Division Two of the Championship last year, although a quarter-final in the Royal London Cup provided some solace. That was with the Gidman brothers in the side; now former captain Alex has gone to Worcestershire while Will, the talismanic allrounder, has joined Nottinghamshire.
"That's what happens in sport." Jones says. "You've just got to roll with those punches and move on - what it will give is opportunities." He sees the winter as "a finding-out period, learning the characters and skills of the guys".
It also makes the experience of Jones, an Ashes winner capped more than 80 times by England, all the more critical. He is likely to be one of only two over 30s (Hamish Marshall being the other) in the side.
Jones clearly made an impression during in his month-long loan at Bristol last season. As four-day captain - Michael Klinger will remain in charge of the limited-overs sides - Jones says he will aim to follow his long-time Kent skipper Rob Key in "seizing opportunities and knowing when to go on a full-blown attack to win games".
He also looks to the leadership of Michael Vaughan, who he played under during the majority of his England career, for inspiration.
"His character as a captain impressed me most and is something I'll try and emulate quite a lot," Jones says. "You didn't know if he'd scored 0 or 150 - he was the same guy no matter what his personal fortunes were. So that was the big thing for me, his calmness as a character in all situations. He may have been flapping on the inside but externally he was always pretty much the same guy. That's a characteristic which I really admired in him and hopefully I can get close to it."
That Jones decided to leave Kent, with whom he had a 14-year association, was largely the result of Sam Billings' spectacular progress as wicketkeeper. The situation was "not dissimilar" to the way in which Jones's emergence led to Kent releasing Paul Nixon 12 years earlier.
Like those two, it is anticipated that Billings will go on to play for England. "I always looked at him and thought the talent that this guy's got is incredible, once he realises that and works the right way and learns about his cricket than he can do good things," Jones says. "He's a good kid. He knows where he wants to go and what he wants to do - he's confident in that."
The two remain in regular contact and Jones does not begrudge Billings' emergence. He anticipates "a new lease of life and a bit of freshness" at Gloucestershire but he will not be taking up the gloves, which will remain with Gareth Roderick. Jones is looking forward to batting in the middle order - "I had my best years when I was batting at three for Kent so I'm quite happy to be higher up" - although he has not scored a first-class century since 2010.
Fielding will present a new challenge, however: "I've now got to find somewhere to field and work hard at catching without gloves."
Jones speaks with energy and enthusiasm. He does not sound like a man in need of inspiration to continue playing. But if he did need it, he could find it in the Papua New Guinea players who, for three years, have been team-mates. Jones has forged a second international career playing for the country where he lived until the age of six.
"It's always really refreshing going back and playing with the PNG guys," he says. "They play with a unique spirit as a team and they really provide me with a bit of a refresher course in my love of the game."
On November 8, Jones will be in the Papua New Guinea side as they play their first one-day international, against Hong Kong in Australia. It will be Jones' 50th ODI, and it is hard to imagine that many cricketers have had a more unorthodox route to that landmark. He has also begun to think about coaching, for when the time comes to tread a new path. "I definitely want to stay involved with PNG cricket for a long while yet."
Tim Wigmore is working on a collaborative book on Associate cricket, out in January 2015