Ben Foakes stands up to give keepers' union something to shout about

England have rarely picked a specialist wicketkeeper over the last 30 years, but in a superb day’s work Jos Buttler’s stand-in showed what they’ve been missing

God grant England’s batsmen the confidence of the man who wrote the MCC’s Cricket Coaching Book. “It can therefore be laid down as an absolute principle in team selection,” he notes, “that the best wicketkeeper, irrespective of all other considerations, must always be chosen …” That was written in 1952, and, though you would never have guessed it from the tone, the idea was open to debate even then.

Within a decade, England had dropped the peerless Keith Andrew (“a silvery, smooth, slinky shadow behind the stumps,” said his teammate Mickey Stewart) because he wasn’t scoring enough runs and chose the No 6 batsman Jim Parks to take over the wicketkeeping.

In England, the intractable debate about whether you ought to pick the best wicketkeeper regardless of his batting was finally won around the time Graham Gooch first persuaded Mickey’s boy, Alec, to take over the job from the brilliantly gifted Jack Russell, just so England could squeeze a fifth bowler into the team for the fourth Test against Australia in 1991.

They have flirted with picking a specialist keeper in the years since, but the dalliances never lasted long. James Foster and Chris Read had a go, but both lost out to men who were better batsmen; Stewart, Geraint Jones and Matt Prior.

But in India, where the squad rotation policy means Ben Foakes has temporarily taken over from Jos Buttler, we have been afforded a brief glimpse into the other way of doing things. It was Foakes’ 28th birthday on Monday and he spent most of it making a compelling, but futile, contribution to the old argument. His performance on a wickedly difficult pitch felt like a demonstration of some extinct art form, a display of deckle making or damask weaving or some other craft the English used to do. Especially in the first half‑hour of play, when, lurking with intent right behind the stumps, he essentially led the England attack as they tried to force their way back into the match.

Cheteshwar Pujara went first as he came down the pitch to attack Moeen Ali. Pujara hit the ball awkwardly and it ricocheted to short-leg, where Ollie Pope, who caught it above his head, instinctively tossed it back towards Foakes. He ducked down and forward to take the catch then whipped the ball back and across into the stumps. Pujara would have made his ground, but his bat caught in a crack and he dropped it, like a man who had spilled his briefcase running for the bus, and pressed on only to find he was just too late.

He was not the only one. Foakes moves so quickly he was the only man on the field who seemed to appeal for his second dismissal, his judgment finally vindicated by the TV umpire.

Rohit Sharma reached out of the crease to a delivery from Jack Leach that spun past his outside edge. Sharma had stretched just a touch too far, so his toe was teetering on the white line. Before he could wriggle his foot back into his ground Foakes had pulled the ball down and stumped him.

The third was the best of the lot. This time he got Rishabh Pant, who skipped down the pitch to attack Leach and missed a ball that dipped and beat him on the inside. From where Foakes was standing, it must have emerged into view at the very last second, but he pushed his hands through the catch so that his weight was moving forward and stumped him with time to spare.

That made it two stumpings in the space of 15 minutes’ play (Buttler, for the record, has taken one in the 30 Tests he has played as wicketkeeper). “Geez,” wrote Adam Gilchrist on Twitter, “how brilliant is Ben Foakes?”

Geez, how brilliant is Ben Foakes #INDvENG

— Adam Gilchrist (@gilly381) February 15, 2021

It didn’t end there. Later in the day, Foakes stood up to the stumps to Stuart Broad as he whistled down a few overs of 80mph leg-cutters. It was an utterly thankless task and an almost ostentatious display of talent, but one, you guess, that a lot of old salts in the keepers’ union would have approved of. They used to judge each other by whether or not they stood up to the medium-pacers, and, incredible as it seems now, the great Alan Knott was criticised because he often refused to do it.

“Wicketkeeping,” said his rival Bob Taylor, “is about standing up, not back, any competent catcher of the ball can do it standing back.”

Maybe Knott had a point. It was not a hugely effective tactic given Foakes dropped a red-hot chance off Ravichandran Ashwin while he was doing it (he missed the chance to stump him, too, somehow it felt like this flaw in the performance only proved how hard it all is to do).

Either way, you know England will revert to Buttler as soon as they can. Even Jonny Bairstow, who clung to the keeper’s gloves like a dog does to a newspaper, seems to have reconciled himself to that. “I’m just focusing on my batting,” he said, during an interview on Channel 4 in the tea break.

So, yes, Foakes will have to go soon enough. But, still, it was glorious while it lasted.


Andy Bull

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
India's Rishabh Pant catches England out as Foakes offers brief resistance | Tanya Aldred
The bubbling superstar of Indian cricket, Rishabh Pant, delivers yet another cameo while England’s scene-stealer, Ben Foakes, was their invisible man

Tanya Aldred

14, Feb, 2021 @2:48 PM

Article image
England consider lodging complaint about pitch used in India's two-day win
England are mulling over whether to lodge a formal complaint about the pitch used during their two-day defeat to India in Ahmedabad even if Chris Silverwood, the head coach, accepts his team were also culpable

Ali Martin

26, Feb, 2021 @4:44 PM

Article image
Joe Root ready to stay selfish and banish unhappy England memories
Joe Root will make his 100th Test appearance for England and knows in the knowledge his side face a tough series against No 2-ranked India

Ali Martin

04, Feb, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
View from India: Virat Kohli needs to be angry not grumpy to lead fightback
Captain has presided over four successive Test losses butwill lead from the front as hosts look to level series against England

Anand Vasu in Chennai

10, Feb, 2021 @2:00 PM

Article image
Dan Lawrence digs in for forgettable innings he will long remember | Andy Bull
England No 3’s hour-long 18 in Chennai must have been about the hardest little stretch of batting he has had to do

Andy Bull

08, Feb, 2021 @2:57 PM

Article image
Dom Bess delighted by 'special dismissal' of India's Virat Kohli
After India’s captain fell to Dom Bess’s plan, caught at short leg for 11, the England spinner hailed his ‘phenomenal, world-class’ victim but also his teammates’ collective efforts

Simon Burnton

07, Feb, 2021 @1:29 PM

Article image
Jimmy Anderson's moment arrives with over of reverse-swing sorcery | Andy Bull
The veteran England paceman played a supporting role for much of the first Test against India, but then sent stumps cartwheeling

Andy Bull

09, Feb, 2021 @1:53 PM

Article image
Joe Root opts not to declare as England set India target of 420 to win first Test
India closed day four on 39-1, requiring 420 for a most unlikely win against England in Chennai

Ali Martin

08, Feb, 2021 @12:23 PM

Article image
'If the crowd like it I'm happy': Pant on his reverse flick against Anderson
Rishabh Pant has spoken about the shots in an extraordinary over on the second day of the fourth Test and vowed to continue entertaining Test crowds

Andy Bull

05, Mar, 2021 @2:22 PM

Article image
Ben Stokes laments 'hardest conditions I’ve faced' as struggles in India continue
Ben Stokes bemoaned the bounce and spin of the Ahmedabad surface but said England’s execution let them down in the fourth Test, after he made 55 in a first-innings total of 205

Simon Burnton

04, Mar, 2021 @1:53 PM