LAWRENCE BOOTH: Ben Foakes’ impressive blitz on the fourth morning against New Zealand shows that he fits England’s red-ball revolution
- Ben Foakes demonstrated that he can still have a key part to play for England
- Ben Stokes went out of his way to praise Foakes after his impressive display
- Foakes reaffirmed his credentials behind the stumps and may be here to stay
If England’s new set-up still harboured any doubts about Ben Foakes’s role in the revolution, they ought to have been dispelled by the first 20 minutes of the fourth morning of this gripping second Test.
When Foakes walked out to bat with 24 to his name, he might easily have sought out the slipstream of his partner, Joe Root Instead, he timed Tim Southee’s second ball through extra cover, then – assisted by a misfield – did the same to the third.
Three through midwicket helped make it 12 off the opening over, and England had immediately tapped into the madness of Sunday, when they made 383 runs, their most in a day’s play for more than a decade. Soon after, Foakes cut Southee for four more to complete his first Test fifty since his maiden series, in November 2018 in Sri Lanka.
Ben Foakes’ performance showed that he deserves to be part of England’s revolution
Back then, the thought that this Test might be only his 13th would have raised eyebrows. But circumstance got in the way: England hadn’t given up on Jonny Bairstow or Jos Buttler, and then came Covid and a freak dressing-room injury, when he tore a hamstring slipping in his socks.
That ruled him out of last summer’s series against New Zealand, amid concerns that his chance had come and gone – especially when he had a quiet time on both sides of the stumps earlier this year in the Caribbean.
Foakes reaffirmed his credentials behind the stumps – he makes the tricky look mundane
But Ben Stokes made it clear to Brendon McCullum that Foakes was his preferred choice with the gloves, on the refreshingly simple grounds that he was the best wicketkeeper in the world. With 177 Test wickets under his belt, Stokes knows the importance for a bowler’s morale of a reliable keeper.
Doubt had arisen partly because Rob Key, England’s new director of cricket, has never hidden his admiration of Buttler, who spent most of May whacking bowlers over the ropes at the IPL. McCullum, too, used his first public appearance to suggest that Buttler could yet translate his white-ball form into Test success. More obviously than Foakes, he seemed to embody the new regime’s style.
There were concerns Foakes’ chance had been and gone but he showed what he is capable of
Then there was Bairstow. The easiest call would have been to hand him back the gloves, creating room at No 5 for Yorkshire’s Harry Brook, who is the next batting cab off the rank.
But Stokes’s preference for Foakes trumped all other considerations, and the new captain went out of his way to praise his wicketkeeper after his unbeaten 32 helped England over the line at Lord’s. Foakes himself called it ‘best feeling I’ve had in cricket’.
Stokes and McCullum were especially impressed at the way he had soaked up pressure on the third evening in that game, when he and Root took the score from 159 for five to 216. Next morning, they knocked off the remaining 61 without fuss.
After Foakes’s struggles in the West Indies, where he averaged just 19, and a first-innings failure at Lord’s, an early reminder of why he averages 42 for Surrey was crucial for quieting the debate.
Ben Stokes went out of his way to praise Foakes after his unbeaten 32 against New Zealand
Something similar happened on the third evening here in Nottingham. Replying to New Zealand’s mammoth 553, England had just lost Stokes for a raucous 46, and were 405 for five with only Foakes to come before their uncomfortably long tail.
Fortunate to survive a chance to Will Young at deep square leg on nine, he helped Root take England to 473 for five at stumps – then cracked on yesterday morning until he was run out for 56 because of a poor call for a single by Matt Potts.
Foakes then set about reaffirming his credentials behind the stumps, not least when leaping high down the leg side to intercept short swinging deliveries from Potts. As with all the best wicketkeepers, he makes the tricky look mundane.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day came when one ball wobbled late after passing the bat and rapped Foakes on the left thumb. He winced, removed his glove and shook his hand. It was a rare moment of inelegance from a player who may, at last, be here to stay.