x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

England's Geraint Jones seeks Papua New Guinea route to World Cup

The former wicketkeeper slips into the team of his country of birth who are only delighted to have him.

Geraint Jones, seen practising here in Port Moresby last month, qualifies because he was born in Papua New Guinea.
Geraint Jones, seen practising here in Port Moresby last month, qualifies because he was born in Papua New Guinea.

For Geraint Jones, the former England wicketkeeper, the chance to play in September's ICC World Twenty20 tournament in Sri Lanka is "the gold at the end of the rainbow."

Only for Jones, that gold is being sought as a Papua New Guinea player.

The keeper who made 34 Test, 49 one-day international and two Twenty20 international appearances for England between 2004 and 2006 is now lining up for the country of his birth as PNG prepare to vie with 15 other teams from cricket's second and third tiers for a place at this year's tournament.

"My family spent 10 years in PNG throughout the 1970s and, in the middle of that, I was born," Jones said by telephone from the side's training camp in Canberra, Australia last week.

"I spent roughly six years there before we moved to Australia in the early 1980s and that is how playing for PNG now has come about. And because it has been over four years since I played for England, [then] that has also enabled me to be eligible for PNG."

Jones is now 35, at a time when many sportsmen are thinking of winding down their careers, certainly at international level.

However, for him, the fire still burns brightly and he regards the qualifying tournament in the UAE, starting tomorrow, as a chance to show the England selectors he was discarded prematurely.

"I had a good career with England and I learnt a lot from it and I believe I am better player now than I was during my England career," he said.

"I am very driven. Physically I feel good and I still believe I have got a good few years of playing left in me. I am excited about playing for PNG and see it as an opportunity to play some international cricket again and maybe get to a World Cup, which I did not get the chance to do with England."

But while Jones may be excited by that chance, how have his new teammates taken to a player who has linked up with them at the 11th hour?

"They have been absolutely brilliant from the moment the idea of me being selected was discussed," Jones said.

"One of the things I wanted to make sure was that the players wanted me. I did not want to be someone who just jetted in and was forced upon them.

"They are a group of guys I have got to know and they have given me a new lease of life with cricket, showing how you can play with a smile on your face and enjoy what you are doing."

Greg Campbell, the general manager of Cricket Papua New Guinea, said the main concern was to ensure the players in the squad were comfortable with Jones's inclusion.

"It was passed by the boys, all our sponsors and people involved with Cricket PNG," Campbell said by telephone from Canberra.

"Everyone, even down to people in the local supermarket, has stopped me to say what a wonderful thing it is that he is coming back to us as a Test player. They all see the benefit of him coming back.

"We need to climb the rankings and we see 'Jonesy' adding that bit of professionalism to us."

Jones is the one big name in a team who have yet to make their mark on the world stage.

"There's definitely extra pressure and I have felt it in the training I have done [with the PNG squad]," he said. "I want to show them what has got me to the top with England but what I have also said to them is that in cricket you cannot do it with one person."

PNG's route to a top-two finish and a place in Sri Lanka looks to be a tough one. They have been grouped alongside the highly-rated Afghanistan - who they face on the tournament's opening day - and Netherlands, who shocked England by beating them in the opening match of the 2009 Twenty20 World Cup. "There is no doubt it is going to be tough for us but we have got a quiet, strong, self-belief in what we can do," Jones said.

"I have been impressed with the players' natural abilities, for sure. We are an incredible fielding side with the athleticism we have got, our catching is very good and the bowlers' skills with variations is very good as well.

"If we can put enough runs on the board then I have got a strong belief we can defend them."

Jones's main role in the side is set to be as a batsman.

"The vice-captain Jack Vare is a wicketkeeper as well," he said. "It is something we have talked about, that we will probably share the duties."

If Jones can help pilot PNG through to their first ICC World Twenty20 tournament, there is even the possibility of a matchup against England or even Australia, where he spent his formative years after leaving the country of his birth.

"It would be a bit strange, to go and play against England, there is no doubt about that," he said. "It is a long way off but I think the experience would be incredible."

* Reuters