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Last Updated: Friday, 11 May 2007, 07:21 GMT 08:21 UK
England's great keeping debate
By Sam Lyon

Paul Nixon
He was a bit of a left-field selection but he didn't let anyone down at the World Cup... he might get the nod

Alec Stewart on Paul Nixon
With Peter Moores set to take charge of his first England squad for the series against the West Indies, the new coach could be forgiven for bemoaning his luck.

Captain Michael Vaughan is doubtful with a broken finger, Kevin Pietersen is struggling with a calf strain, Marcus Trescothick has effectively ruled himself out of a recall and questions remain over England's best bowling attack.

However, the hottest long-term question on the table is what Moores will do to solve England's wicket-keeping conundrum.

With Geraint Jones and Chris Read now apparently out of favour, Paul Nixon and Matt Prior look to be the top two following their recent selection in the England performance squad.

Nixon is in the box-seat following his impressive performances at the World Cup, while Moores's familiarity with Prior from his Sussex days is a key factor in his call-up.

But former England keepers Alec Stewart and Jack Russell believe the debate is far from over.

And with the pair differing to some degree over most, if not all, areas of the issue, only one thing is clear; the answer is not simple.

606: DEBATE
Sam Lyon

"Right now, the selectors have absolutely no choice but to select their new keeper on a hunch," Stewart told BBC Sport.

"Ever since I packed it in, no-one has stood up and said 'I'm the man' through sheer weight of runs. Until they do, the position will be up for grabs."

But Russell countered: "I've found the wicket-keeping situation disturbing in recent years.

"We continue to chop, change and not give one man a chance to settle in and prove himself. It's a little worrying."

Neither man has anything other than positive words for Nixon and Prior, but they differ over who might get the nod for the first Test on 17 May.

Stewart said: "I'm a Prior fan. He has the potential and can be a very dangerous cricketer

"Nixon, meanwhile, is the fittest player on the circuit. He was a bit of a left-field selection but he didn't let anyone down at the World Cup. He kept well, scored a few runs and he may well get the nod."

Alec Stewart and Jack Russell
Stewart and Russell won 397 international caps between them

Russell responded: "Nicco will never let you down. He's very fit, knows his game inside-out and he can add a lot to the team, both on and off the field.

"But Matt's a very fine, aggressive batsman and his keeping has improved. Maybe Moores will go down that road."

However, neither Nixon nor Prior has produced his best form at the start of the season, while the likes of Tim Ambrose, David Nash, James Pipe and Nic Pothas have plundered runs.

Russell puts their good form down to the fact that county keepers are more aware than ever that "runs gets you noticed by selectors".

However, Nixon and Prior's selection does not point to that - the former has not scored more than 45 in his three innings for Leicestershire this season, while Prior averages 14.8 in five Championship innings.

So, if not Prior or Nixon, who should get the nod?

Both Stewart and Russell are impressed by Australia-born Ambrose who scored 251 not out fior Warwickshire against Worcestershire last week.

England are blessed with the best keepers in the world, no question

Jack Russell

Stewart added that Surrey's Jon Batty "never gets a mention, despite the fact that his stats stand up against most", while Middlesex's Nash "has done himself no harm this term".

Russell, meanwhile, is a fan of Essex's James Foster, saying: "He is the one who should be really talked up for me. His game's developed a hell of a lot; he scores plenty of runs, plays great under pressure and is a fine, aggressive person and keeper."

No real agreement there, then.

And while Stewart argues that keepers have yet to "continually stand up and be counted", Russell believes "England are blessed with the best keepers in the world, no question".

Even England's approach to future selections divides the pair's opinion.

Russell says: "All the swings, roundabouts, chopping and changing is illogical. In fact it can be quite ludicrous. What the selectors need to do is to identify the man who they believe in and back him for the next couple of years.

Matt Prior
Prior worked closely with new England coach Moores at Sussex

"Whoever gets the job should get it with an eye on the Ashes and World Cup in four years' time. The only way to build a successful side for then is to give them backing and stability."

But Stewart disagrees: "For me, there is never a time for experimentation or whatever you want to call it.

"All I want is for England to go onto the park with the best side, with players who are at the top of their form.

"People talk about the Ashes, but it is still four years away and, before then, we must aim to win series. That should be the only goal for the team and selectors."

So, two of England's finest cricketers in recent memory are divided over personnel, tactics and planning.

And, if their disagreement is indicative of the wicket-keeping conundrum, what hope have Moores and his co-selectors of getting it right?

One thing is for sure, while England are failing on the field, everyone is entitled to an opinion on how to solve it.

Only when the performances come, will the questions stop.



SEE ALSO
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England to limit coach's powers
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Moores provides upbeat approach
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England name Moores as new coach
20 Apr 07 |  England
Aussies complete Ashes whitewash
05 Jan 07 |  England


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