ENGLAND TOUR OF SRI LANKA, 2018
Foakes scored a century on debut. © AFP
Despite a man-of-the-match performance on debut, Ben Foakes believes Jonny Bairstow is still England’s number one wicketkeeper. Foakes has enjoyed a week like no other, from being told he would be making his international bow on the eve of the first Test in Galle to scoring his maiden century and having a hand in four dismissals.
His contribution, particularly the 144 runs in the match, saw the visitors triumph by 211 runs. The 25-year-old is only in Sri Lanka because of an injury to Bairstow’s right ankle which ruled him out of the opening encounter. The Yorkshireman, who has kept wickets in 41 of his 59 Test appearances, is set to be fit for the second Test in Kandy and will expect, personally, to reprise his role with the gloves.
Given the manner in which Foakes scored his 107 in the first innings – showing patience and a cool head to help England from 106 for five 342 all out – losing the gloves won’t necessarily mean losing his place. The Surrey keeper is philosophical about the dilemma awaiting skipper Joe Root and the other selectors and feels Bairstow is the man in possession.
“To be honest if you asked me two weeks ago I was having six months off,” he said. “So to be sat here now is unbelievable. Jonny, I think, will be fit. So I guess he’s the number one and if I play one game I’m quite happy with that one.
“The big thing for me is just making my debut, being able to say you’re an England Test cricketer. Regardless of what’s happened, that’s such a special feeling that no-one can take away.”
Whether Bairstow comes straight back in, whether he takes the gloves back off Foakes, who kept immaculately, and the balance of the bowling attack are all areas of discussion ahead of Kandy. Difficult decisions will need to be made, including if Stuart Broad is preferred to Adil Rashid given the extra carry for seamers at the Pallekele International Stadium.
The squad will travel to Colombo on Saturday to spend a few days in the capital, before making their way to Kandy. The second Test starts on Wednesday and beyond training sessions and general fitness checks, the selection committee will get together to formulate the ideal XI to seal the series. Root is happy for the conundrums but has urged any disappointed parties to look beyond their own situations and come together for the good for the team.
“I’m going to enjoy that difficult meeting. But that’s what you want. You want guys performing, to make those tough calls. As I said many times before, to win here, it might be that it’s going to be tough to make some selection decisions.
“Ultimately, it’s about collectively as a group performing. Not making it about yourself being involved in the XI. It’s about being part of this squad. I think that’s the most important thing. The real achievement is to be part of this squad to hopefully go on to win this tour.”
Root also reserved special praise for Foakes: “To come in and play with such maturity, understanding of his own game in a difficult position as well, under pressure it’s really pleasing to see someone come in and really enjoy the occasion. Not get overawed by things.
“He came on the Ashes tour last winter and impressed there and has obviously got his opportunity in unusual circumstances. To come in and play as he has is great to see.”
Root also took time to praise a “very special win” – England’s first overseas in 14 attempts. Form in foreign conditions was a big concern for this side, though most sides struggle to give a good account of themselves away from home. But the manner of the victory – attacking at the top of the match after winning the toss and batting first – along with succeeding at a venue which England had never previously won at is a big plus.
“We had some clear plans about the way we were going to approach this game in particular on this surface,” said Root. “To see them work, to see the hard work leading into the game pay off, is great.
“That first session, we’ll probably take a bit of flack for the way we played (they were 113 for five at lunch on day one) and I think it was more the execution of certain shots that was the frustrating thing. If we’d have sat in our bunker and waited for a good ball when it was tacky and spinning quite quickly, we could have been 50 for 5 and it’s a lot more difficult from that position. The fact that we had taken the game to them and got to a hundred, it meant at least we’d applied a bit of pressure, got to some sort of substance.”
From then on, it was about adjusting and when batting became easier on day three, Keaton Jennings set the tone with a measured 146 not out – his second Test hundred. England, certainly this iteration of the team, have struggled to temper their approach to changing, wearing pitches. This, believes Root, was most pleasing: a sign of a group learning and a deserved milestone for a hardworking cricketer.
“That was the adaptability that I was talking about. It was better for batting, there wasn’t that pace of turn and spit from the first innings.
“We were quite smart in how we read the pitch as a batting group. The way Keaton played was magnificent, he was composed and he knew where he was going to score his runs. It was great to see him show that mental determination and skill that we’ve been aware of for such a long time.”