England v Pakistan, 3rd Test, Headingley, 4th day

Read benefits from Fletcher's impatience

Not bad for a comeback: a faultless display with the gloves, a plucky 38 under pressure followed by an innings-salvaging 55 today. It's been a slick and confident return to England colours for Chris Read

Will Luke

August 7, 2006

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Determined and resourceful, Read brought up his maiden Test fifty with a calm nod to the dressing-room © Getty Images
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Not bad for a comeback: a faultless display with the gloves, a plucky 38 under pressure followed by an innings-salvaging 55 today. It's been a slick and confident return to England colours for Chris Read. Regardless of the match situation, Read has snaffled the lifeline thrown to him by the England selectors with both gloves and a fair amount of bottle.

To put his effort into perspective, you only need look at the beleaguered Pakistan wicketkeeper, Kamran Akmal, who shan't be cherishing the match medal he will receive when the Test concludes sometime tomorrow. After two of the simplest drops behind the stumps, and a fair comedy of errors otherwise - not to mention his lack of runs - his failures rather highlight the pressure wicketkeepers are under these days. Read, though, has so far come through with flying (often diving) colours.

It was back in April that the first signs appeared of the tombstone being shifted, of his potential resurrection to England colours, when he clashed with Mushtaq Ahmed in a county championship match for Nottinghamshire. This brief, prickly debate - admittedly an ugly incident - surprised as many as it delighted, for it demonstrated that the cherubic, diffident young wicketkeeper had finally stoked his inner fire. It fizzled out into a fine but it didn't go unnoticed.

Meanwhile Geraint Jones, the wicketkeeper-in-holding, continued to fuel his detractors with a feast of reasons to drop him - but not for his glovework which, ironically (and pleasingly) improved markedly from the nervous slapdash efforts in previous seasons. It was his ever-decreasing batting average which caused the most concern.

No pressure, then, on Read's shoulders. His nervous, adrenaline-fulled 38 in the first innings had the Jones club - rather boisterous in their disgust at his sacking - spitting into their inners. Read's first innings on recall was not pretty, but ugly runs are better than none at all. He went one better today, replacing "ugly" with "gritty" and "audacious" in a fifty, his first in Tests, which rather suggested he knew this was his chance to show Duncan Fletcher his true worth - and secure a plane ticket to the Ashes, not as a spectator on his sofa in Nottingham.

Admittedly his first 15 runs were streaky and fortuitous, at best. An inside-edge millimetres past his stumps for four to get off the mark; an edge past gully for another four the next ball and Danish Kaneria twice bamboozled him with the googly. However, he was soon racing past his Test average of 15 with a bold, audacious six over Kaneria's head before some beautifully timed drives off the back foot and some impish singles. This was the Read England first identified back in 1999; the same fast hands and aggressive strokeplay, now with added grit and determination. With England threatening capitulation, he nurtured the tail and took them from 248 for 5 to 345 all out.

It was his celebration on reaching the milestone, though, which said the most. A determined nod to the dressing-room; no great smiles or arm-waving, no silly antics. It was calm, controlled and he really couldn't have done much more. On the balcony his team-mates rose - smiling and arm-waving, but they're allowed to - and to their left stood Fletcher in the shadows, clapping solidly if without the exuberance of his underlings.

Three-quarters of the way through his comeback, he has quietened his detractors with a faultless performance. Maybe even the coach will be secretly pleased and, perhaps, grateful to have arguably the world's most gifted gloveman at his disposal. Dropping him in 2004 was the best move Fletcher could have made.

Will Luke is editorial assistant of Cricinfo

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Will Luke Assistant editor Will opted against a lifetime of head-bangingly dull administration in the NHS, where he had served for two years. In 2005 came a break at Cricinfo where he slotted right in as a ferociously enthusiastic tea drinker and maker, with a penchant for using "frankly" and "marvellous". He also runs The Corridor, a cricket blog where he can be found ranting and raving about all things - some even involving the sport. He is a great-great nephew of Sir Jack Newman, the former Wellingtonian bowler who took two wickets at 127 apiece for New Zealand.

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