England v Australia, 3rd Test, Old Trafford, 3rd day August 13, 2005

Fletcher plays down Jones errors



Geraint Jones missed two chances in the 14 overs England bowled on the third day © Getty Images

After 14 frustrating rain-blighted overs for England, their coach Duncan Fletcher wore a stony face, like a grumpy Christmas Island statue, in the evening press conference. But you can't read too much into that: he always does.

Fletcher downplayed Geraint Jones's missed stumping with Australia 14 short of the follow-on target of 245. "There is a very good chance," he said, "that we would have batted again anyway. We've heard it's going to be baking sun for the next two days and just don't know how it will affect that wicket." England have been bowled out for less than 200 in each of their last two second innings. They weren't taking any chances.

If Fletcher's weather forecaster is right, two days should still be sufficient for England to win. Australia are 180 behind with three wickets in hand. But with the clock now an issue, runs belted by Warne today counted double: every one England conceded is one more to score before a declaration. "They've put on about 30 there," said Fletcher, "which is quite important. That's ten overs out of the game."

Recent statistics produced by The Wisden Cricketer magazine show that after 15 Tests, Jones had more dismissals (though fewer stumpings) than any other significant post-war English wicketkeeper at the equivalent stage. That is partly - but not wholly - down to incisive bowling.

Jones's total of 58 victims was eight ahead of even the molten-gloved Bob Taylor. Fletcher's point was that you accept dropped catches if a keeper makes runs. Jones does. His batting average after 15 Tests was 31.88, well ahead of even Alec Stewart after the same number of games as a keeper.

Fletcher made a decent case that Jones was too harshly criticised for his fumbles. His missed stumping with Warne on 55 came through chest height as the ball exploded past the outside edge from the rough. When a batsman as accomplished as Damien Martyn is beaten by a ball spitting out of the rough, it seems unreasonable to expect a keeper to take everything cleanly, especially with a batsman's bottom in their face.

Besides, as Fletcher added, "[After rain breaks] it's not easy to go out there and to switch on and make sure you go out there on top form from the word go." The second dropped chance, with Warne on 68, looked very straightforward, navel high and straight to Jones. But the bright sun was low in the sky and directly into his eyes.

Fletcher was unconcerned. A few grassed chances, ran his argument, are the wages of extra runs with the bat. "Gilchrist dropped his [chances]. I've seen Boucher drop many, I've seen Sangakkara drop many for Sri Lanka, I've seen Indian keepers drop many. Most sides look as though they're going to go for a batter who can keep wicket and if you go for that policy you've got to expect a couple of chances to go begging."

Paul Coupar is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer