Cricket News by Neil Robinson 29/02/04
Despite a late scare over sore shins, Glamorgan pace bowler Simon Jones has been given the go-ahead to join up with Englandís Test squad and will fly out to Jamaica asap in the hope of getting in at least one practice match before the First Test begins on March 11th.
In a dramatic series of events, it had barely been confirmed that Jones was to leave Englandís A-tour of India to link up with Michael Vaughanís senior squad before rumours began to circulate that a diagnosis of shin splints would lead to his withdrawal, rumours which were initially denied by the ECB, only to be partially confirmed by chairman of selectors David Graveney in an interview on BBC radio. Fortunately for everyone at Lordís, two separate scans conducted under the supervision of ECB Chief Medical Officer Peter Gregory showed no bone damage and Jones was given the all-clear to join the squad.
After the disastrous catalogue of injuries on last yearís Ashes tour, England were unwilling to take a chance on a bowler who might have been only partially fit, so the news that Jonesís shin problem was no more than the natural reaction of a pair of legs which has got out of the habit of pounding into bowling creases over the past fifteen months will have come as a great relief to all concerned. The optimism engendered by Jonesí successful return from that horrific knee injury at Brisbane just over a year ago is partly a relection of his promise as a bowler, but also of the desperation England feel for a bowler of extra pace following a winter programme in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka during which their pace attack looked distinctly samey. Now with the pace and bounce of a fit-again Steve Harmison, the niggardly accuracy of Andrew Flintoff and the explosive speed of Jones, England can feel a lot more confident of upsetting a strong West Indies batting line up.
It is Jonesís ability to generate reverse swing with the old ball on dry, flat pitches which has impressed England Academy supremo Rod Marsh as much as his high pace. After some initial knee soreness during the early one-day matches in India, Jones progressed well to take 10-88 during the first four-day match against Tamil Nadu Cricket Association. He followed this up with another promising return of 2-24 during the opening Duleep Trophy match against South Zone. However, forced to deputise with the new-ball in the second innings after an ankle injury to Sajid Mahmood, Jones fared less well, struggling to find control and conceding 89 runs from just 13.5 overs. A preference for using the old ball was never much of a hindrance to Allan Donald though, and Marsh appears unconcerned by this apparent weakness. ďWhen the ball starts to get old thatís when he wants to bowl very fast, and any team can use a bowler of that nature,Ē he said.
Whether or not Jones return to the fold can help England to their first series win in the Caribbean since 1968, all cricket fans will surely be hoping that Jonesís nightmare fitness problems are at last behind him, for their are few greater shames in sport than when a promising career is cut short through injury.
His place on Englandís A-tour has been taken by Yorkshireís Steve Kirby, the red-headed firebrand who has been working for the past few weeks at Dennis Lilleeís MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai. Had Jones not made it back in time, Kirby could well have been one of the strongest contenders to replace him in the Caribbean. Aussie legend Lillee has been impressed by Kirbyís pace, enthusiasm and work rate, as well perhaps as a temperament which enjoys pinging helmets as much as the old master himself used to enjoy cracking pommie skulls. Lillee has reportedly asked his old mucker Marshy why Kirby isnít playing for England already. Marsh may well have found himself stumped for an answer.