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Calamity Jones

Jack Russell loyally defended Geraint Jones on the BBC’s Today programme this week, but then he would, wouldn’t he, a fellow member of the wicketkeeper’s union. It still only begged the question: where have all the eccentric types like Russell gone who used to play the position?

Britain’s wicketkeeping is in as bad a state as its goalkeeping. Some of Jones’s many dropped catches (not to mention a missed stumping) have been the equal and worse of David James’s efforts between the England posts. Jones’s failure to reach that lobbed effort by Glenn McGrath at Lord’s - when he seemed to dive past it - gave the impression he needed glasses.

Russell was part of a long tradition of specialists, including the likes of Bob Taylor, Alan Knott and Godfrey Evans, who stood apart from the rest. Really old people talk of Leslie Ames, who like Knott and Evans was ex-of Kent. Maybe there was something weird in the air down there among the orchards and oast houses that produced such people (between Evans and Knott, there was a bloke called Tony Catt; right name but he never really made it).

I guess the rot for England set in some 40 years ago now amid what passed for a great debate at the time over whether Jim Parks or John Murray should keep wicket for the Test side.

Murray was a specialist keeper. He performed an elaborate ritual of touching his cap and tapping the fingertips of his gloves together before assuming the classicly poised wicketkeeper’s stance, knees akimbo, waiting for a tickle.

Parks just bent his knees, one lower than the other, into an untidy crouch, wrung his gloves together as if he didn’t know what to do with them, and scowled, though in a sunny sort of way.

He was primarily a batsman and had only turned to wicketkeeping late, though held the record of seven catches in an innings. The selectors consistently chose him above Murray.

Personally I preferred Parks. Sussex, his county, was far more exotic than Murray’s Middlesex, which, since I supported Surrey, held no fascination for me. But when I read that Parks had got divorced, it was disturbing. This was in the early half of the 60s, indicative of the changing times.

What really took their toll was all those years of Alec Stewart behind the stumps. He did a competent job, but there was no flair, nothing that you’d have crossed the road to watch.

These days there is even less room for eccentricity. Everyone in everything graduates towards a common mean. I blame the market system. For all its advocacy of ‘choice’, it really wants us all to be the same.

Tie optional

I partly blame Jones for a recent decision that rates as perhaps one of the worst in sporting fanship.

A friend forsook a ticket for the NatWest Series one day final on July 2 between England and Australia at Lord’s and gave it to me as a birthday present. This was the game that ended in a tie.

As England lost a string of early wickets in reply to Australia, Jones and Paul Collingwood came together for what turned out to be the match saving partnership - though at the time, and with Australia well on top, frankly you’d never have known.

The pair scratched around, the run-rate plummeted, and I have to say that after an hour and more of what was as boring a piece of cricket as any witnessed since the great days of Trevor Bailey, I went home.

I was surprised others didn’t join me. In fact the only other person I noticed walking the empty pavement towards St John’s Wood station was Charlie Sale of the Daily Mail.

When I heard the result I had to mug up on the details of the last few minutes - Brett Lee’s dramatic fumble at third man that brought England’s tying run, and so on - in order to give my friend a full and colourful account of what a great day it had been. I doubt I’ll ever able to tell him the truth.

‘Arsene knows’

A quasi religious feeling has settled around Arsenal fans as they contemplate what lies ahead. They have no idea, but nod confidently at each other in the belief that ‘Arsene knows’.

Few of us who settled into our plastic seats in May for the Everton match at the end of last season knew what we were in for.

It materialised into the finest match Dennis Bergkamp has played for the club and, although we kind of knew Edu was bowing out, we’d forgotten it could be Patrick Vieira’s last game at Highbury. For several close seasons past we’ve become used to him threatening to leave, but this one was quieter.

So, while Jose Mourinho continues freely to expend the wealth of the widows and orphans of Russia, Arsenal hold on to the pursestrings more tightly than a classical economist at the height of the Great Depression.

But few people are panicking. Everyone assumes Arsene Wenger can marshall what resources he has to mount a renewed assault on the Premiership and Europe. How, who knows? All that’s required is to have faith.

Ibsen Baardsen

My thanks to Espen Baardsen, former four times-Norway international goalkeeper and man on the backline for Tottenham, Everton and Watford. He wrote after the Champions League final in response to my awarding Jerzy Dudek the final “ Goalkeeper’s Jerzy” award for much maligned keepers.

Espen is now ‘something in the City’ having decided to get out of football after, as he puts it, “the ITV digital drama” and the plummet in salaries it meant for many players.

“Goalkeeping is an inherently negative position”, he adds.

“To compare it to a financial investment, it is a bit like being a corporate bond investor, as the focus is on avoiding a loss (bankruptcy), not on aiming to score/win.”

I agree that these days goalkeeping is a mug’s game - hence the piece in praise of Jerzy - but I’d never imagined such a dark interpretation. Espen must have been suffering an Ibsenesque moment.


Peter Chapman’s column, variously titled ‘Keeper’s Blog! and The View from the Back, returns at the end of August

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