Well done Ben Foakes. Where would England be without your calm head and sound batting technique, not to mention your first class wicket keeping?
Ireland embarrassed England in Dublin yesterday, and probably would have won had they reviewed an LBW shout against Foakes when he was on 37. That would have left England seven down and needing a run a ball in tricky conditions with no recognised batsmen at the crease.
Fortunately, however, Ireland squandered the opportunity and the Foakes / Curran partnership saw England home. But it was still a stark reminder that England’s much celebrated batting line-up is far from invulnerable. If England encounter conditions like the ones yesterday during the World Cup they could easily fall arse over mammary gland.
In days gone by a greenish pitch, moisture in the air, and overcast skies would suit England teams. But not this one. Our current swashbucklers are used to true surfaces that facilitate high-scoring. When a little nous and technique are required we frequently struggle. So basically one might argue that England’s World Cup chances depend somewhat on the weather and the generosity of the groundsmen. It’s not particularly reassuring.
At one point yesterday I joked that Foakes could take England to victory singlehandedly but he’d still only have a Night King’s chance against Arya Stark of starting in England’s World Cup XI. I was being facetious of course, but on reflection I think England could probably use someone like him in the squad.
If it’s likely to be a low scoring game, and batting brains are going to be more valuable than brawn, then I’d much rather have Foakes in the side (a keeper who gives away nothing and bats intelligently) than one of our middle-order hitters. If there’s one criticism that could be levelled at our successful ODI side in recent times it’s that they tend to be a bit inflexible. Having Foakes on the bench – a horse for a particularly kind of course – might prove rather handy. It won’t happen though. England seem to have a pecking order that’s set in stone for the tournament and that, ladies and gents, is that.
The other star yesterday was Tom Curran, who seems to be maturing very nicely. He bowled with gusto and cunning and batted very well too. He’s better than his brother in white ball cricket and he should make the squad on yesterday’s evidence. Yes the conditions were favourable for his right arm medium-fast seamers, but Curran seems to make things happen through skill and sheer force of personality. He’s just the type of cricketer you want in your side.
The other bowler to impress was the much maligned Liam Plunkett. His 4-35 off 7 overs was a welcome return to form after some dodgy recent performances. Unfortunately Plunkett isn’t as quick as he used to be, which is a bit of a problem to be honest, but he managed to exploit the Dublin pitch really well. It will be hard to drop him if he keeps taking wickets. My doubt is whether he’ll be effective on flatter tracks now that age is catching up with him.
The man all these bowlers are trying to keep out of the side, of course, is Jofra Archer. So how did he look on debut yesterday? Not bad. Not great. But it was unrealistic to expect miracles immediately. Yesterday was a day for traditional English seamers to shine not whippy athletes whose primary attribute is pace.
Jofra’s time will come on the higher scoring pitches England expect to see during the World Cup. Our attack will need something different then: some pace to keep the batsmen honest and some yorkers to keep them on their toes.
This is why I’d have Archer in my squad. He brings wicket taking potential, and often wickets are the only thing that can slow batting sides down on flat decks when run rates are through the roof. Ed Smith and Co would do well to remember that, irrespective of the ridiculous noise about newcomers upsetting team spirit.