September 18, 2015

'I'll be remembered for one catch' - Jones

Geraint Jones plays the final match of his 16-year career at Lord's tomorrow, ten years on from the defining moment of his life

Geraint Jones is back in familiar surroundings. Leaning on the upper balcony of the Underwood Knott stand at the St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury, he's back at the county that he'll always call home.

"Kent has been a huge part of my career, the major part of my career," he tells ESPNcricinfo. "Without the opportunities here I wouldn't have had the career I had. I do enjoy coming back here, I know all the Kent guys, it's easy to come and have a chat with them. I've watched all the changes in the ground from when I first arrived - the old [lime] tree was still standing, none of the development had happened. I've really seen Kent evolve over the years."

His 15 seasons with the club were spent living up to some of the grandest reputations in English wicketkeeping, and he let no-one down in that regard - 14 hundreds and more than 450 dismissals in 150 first-class appearances, plus 34 Test caps, confirm his right to be mentioned in the same breath as Les Ames, Godfrey Evans and Alan Knott, the most illustrious of his precedessors.

But Jones's last hurrah comes as neither a Kent player nor a wicketkeeper. It takes place tomorrow against Surrey at Lord's, as Gloucestershire's No.4 in the final of the Royal London Cup.

It's a send-off that Jones could hardly have envisaged at the start of what had threatened to be a tricky final summer. With the emergence of Sam Billings encouraging his quest for pastures new, Jones' initial plan after relocating from Canterbury to Bristol had been to serve a two-year term as the county's four-day captain. However, it quickly became apparent that the fire in his belly was not burning quite as brightly as it once had.

In July he stepped down as captain and announced his impending retirement, having read the runes in a fast-developing changing-room and recognised that, in the twilight of his career and with a glut of young players seeking first-team opportunities as well as an ambitious new coaching partnership of Richard Dawson and Ian Harvey at the helm, his presence in the side was proving more of a hindrance than a help.

"I could have hung on and carried on playing, but it got to a point that it felt right," he says. "A young squad needed to work out a few things about some players moving forward. At 39 I'm not getting any younger, so it was in the best interests of the squad. This is Daws' first year, he inherited the squad, he inherited me as captain of the four-day stuff. And I had my family to consider. It just felt all right."

But then, barely a week after he'd made his decision, Iain Cockbain, Jones' replacement as four-day leader and a shoo-in in all formats, suffered a broken wrist while batting in the nets at Cheltenham. And, as Dawson succinctly put it, Gloucestershire responded by putting another token in the coin-op, as the old stager was restored to centre stage for the Royal London leg of the summer.

"Iain Cockbain was our first name on the team-sheet in white-ball cricket," Jones says. "I might not have featured had he not been ruled out. But his injury gave me my chance and to go all the way to a Lord's final and hopefully lift the trophy at the home of cricket, it's incredible really."

Gloucestershire go into the final under no illusions about their underdog status. The phenomenal form of Michael Klinger, with 531 runs at 132.75, has been the single biggest factor in their re-emergence as a one-day force. But Jones' role as the experienced old lag in the middle-order has been invaluable at several crunch stages of the competition, not least the quarter-final victory over Hampshire, when he sealed their progression with a six in the penultimate over.

"I've been very happy with my contribution," Jones says. "I've batted at 4 which is new to me, but it's a responsibility that I've really enjoyed. The fact that the games were pretty regular allowed me to stay in form, and I felt that I did really contribute in the early rounds, and the quarter final."

"The good thing about us playing Surrey is they are a known factor," he adds. "We played them in the T20s and lost off the last ball, then in the rounds of the competition we lost a fairly close game. We know what we are getting. They'll have Jason Roy back who's been playing well for England and Kumar [Sangakkara] had that incredible knock [in the semi-final against Nottinghamshire] but we quietly fancy our chances because we know what we are up against.

"The big factor will be to enjoy it. To get to the final, the hard work has been done in a way. The more you can enjoy it, the better your day will be. I won't put too much pressure on myself, I just want to enjoy the day, enjoy it with my team-mates, and hopefully at the end of the day the right result for us will have happened."

There's a clear serenity to Jones' final days in the game. His time is up and he's not afraid to embrace it, but his future is mapped out to a greater degree than that of many retiring sportsmen. He'll always have his family farm to keep him busy - ("There are a few jobs that need doing," he concedes, "a bit of weeding and some fences to mend") - but his next full-time step will be a job as the cricket professional at Brentwood School in Essex, where he'll be doubling up as the third XI football coach during the winter months.

Jones has played some key roles in Gloucestershire's run to the Royal London final © Getty Images

"I knew I wanted to stay within cricket," says Jones. "I'll be working with talented youngsters, nurturing guys in the Essex set-up, and maybe helping a few guys get to first-class level. But it's not just the upper end, hopefully I'll be showing my love for the game to anyone who wants to do it at the school."

It is a role, he admits, that had been bubbling in the background even before his move to Gloucestershire. "As a cricketer you do worry when you're coming to an end," he says. "Getting a real job, taking the next step, what are you going to do? So to have this opportunity helped me make my mind up."

If the timing seems apposite, then it is merely a continuation of a season-long theme for Jones, for whom barely a day has been allowed to pass without reference to the summer of all summers, ten now-distant years ago.

It is ten years to the week, in fact, since Jones was recovering from the greatest hangover of his life, following the open-top bus celebrations and the party in Trafalgar Square that heralded the end of England's 18-year wait for the Ashes.

"It's reaffirmed to me how great a summer that was," Jones says. "The matches, the way the public got involved, the disbelief at the people who came to watch us on the bus. People are still thinking about it, but for me it was the best time of my life, without doubt."

The summer wasn't without its stresses, however, with Jones' glovework in particular coming under scrutiny from first ball to last. And yet, when it came to the crunch, on that unforgettable Sunday morning at Edgbaston, his nerve held firm as he swooped to scoop that catch off Michael Kasprowicz, to seal the two-run victory that changed Ashes history.

"It's the only moment I'll be remembered for, to be honest," he laughs. "That's what I tell everyone. I'll be remembered for one catch. It came to me in slow motion in my mind, I'm watching it go into my gloves and rolling over, then seeing Billy [Bowden]'s crooked finger go up, and then me going a bit mental.

"Again I'm happy with that. It was a big moment, not only in that series, but such an iconic moment in Ashes cricket. To be the man with gloves at that moment, taking the catch, is a very special memory to have."

He's been storing up the memories in the final days of his career, but Jones still hopes that there's one last triumph to come.

"Gloucestershire are a side who, two or three years down the line, can be a very competitive team so to get to a final this year has probably surprised me," he says.

"The bowling aspect has really impressed me. They are local lads in their early 20s, who've really stood up in white-ball cricket. Liam Norwell has had a breakthrough year, Craig Miles is in the development programmes, David Payne has been brilliant bowling at the death.

"And then there's Jack Taylor, I don't think I've ever seen anyone with the amount of belief he has, he's won two or three games off his own back, with the bat more than anything. As a group they can get better with that belief in each other, but individually they are very exciting.

But Surrey are a good side, a young side themselves, the transition they've been through is what you are seeing with English cricket as well, and it's the right way to go about things. Graham Ford had some wonderful years at Kent and I've a huge admiration for him and Alec Stewart. But I'd still like to beat them, that's for sure."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets @miller_cricket

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