Ben Foakes. Where have you been? Maybe there’s some magic spell which automatically turns England No.7s into world beaters (and our number 3s into frogs) or maybe, just maybe, the selectors and all the so-called experts got Surrey’s keeper all wrong. This lad can bat. He’s justified his place in the side and he hasn’t even put his keeping gloves on yet.
For years we’ve heard that Ben Foakes was the best pure keeper in the country. There was just one problem: his batting was a bit pants. Well, not total pants, but he seemed to be tarred with the same brush as James Foster and Chris Read. In other words, he’d let England down because he wouldn’t score the runs that modern keepers are supposed to provide.
Maybe it was the benign wicket (which didn’t really turn much), or maybe it was Sri Lanka’s poor performance with the ball, but Foakes certainly didn’t look like a mug with the willow today. He looked top class – not only the best batsman in the side, but also the batsman most suited to playing a proper, patient, test innings.
Time will tell if he can replicate this kind of performance on a regular basis, and in all conditions, but one has to admit that it’s been a brilliant and highly promising start. What’s more, Foakes’ first class record suggests that he’s a proper batsman. He averages 41 for Surrey with 8 hundreds. That’s better than many of the so called specialists England have tried over the years including James Vince and Tom Westley. His domestic record is also significantly better than Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali’s. Food for thought indeed.
They often say that it’s better to be a lucky football manager than a good one, and maybe the cricketing Gods smile favourably on Ed Smith. No doubt he’ll get plenty of credit for unearthing another star – even though Foakes was ignored in the original tour party. Perhaps some things are just meant to be? Personally I’m delighted as I’ve always loved the idea of England fielding a silky specialist gloveman. Now it looks like we may be able to play the best keeper without another debate about ‘the modern way’ and whether he justifies his place as a batsman.
The other star of the day was Sam Curran who was preferred to Stuart Broad. I thought this was a bizarre decision as I don’t really rate Curran’s bowling, expect him to be innocuous abroad, and think he’ll end up as a batsman who bowls at bit rather than the other way around. In fact, had Curran made his debut in those unforgiving Australian conditions like his brother and Craig Overton, I doubt he’d be anywhere near the side right now.
Having said that, underestimating Curran is always a bad idea. What’s more, he’s more likely to swing the ball like Chaminda Vaas than Stuart Broad. His left-arm angle will be helpful too. Therefore, if the plan is to give young Sam a few overs with the new cherry, and then let him patrol the outfield for a prolonged period while the spinners do their thing, then maybe the decision makes sense.
What’s more, Sam the batsman is a hugely promising cricketer. He played fantastically well yet again today and England really needed his runs. I still think it’s daft to pick an inferior bowler just because he’ll score more runs (especially when he’s batting as low as No.9) but one can’t argue with the results today. Foakes needed a foil and Sam played the role to perfection before striking a few lusty boundaries of his own.
So those were the positives. But what about the negatives? I think we all know where this is going …
England’s top order still looks utterly hopeless. It was so depressing to be 100-5 yet again. The faces change but the results – or most importantly the approach – rarely do. Burns was a bit unlucky (although he really shouldn’t be playing with his hands outside the line of his body like that), Jennings played well albeit a bit frenetically, but too many of the other batsman got out to poor strokes. What is it with England batsmen and the sweep?
There was also a golden duck for Moeen Ali. It looked like a good ball but poor Mo’s defence looked as watertight as a paper bag. I just don’t understand the logic in batting him there. I would much prefer England to try and find a permanent No.3 who can take on the Aussies next summer. Using Mo as a stop-gap smacks of the government’s Brexit policy: keep kicking the can down the road until, erm, we get to the Ashes with no deal at a pivotal position in the side.
At 321-8 England are now in a handy position. It might have been better but it could’ve been a whole lot worse earlier in the day. I expect them to reach 350+ tomorrow and then put the Lankans under some pressure. At least I hope so!
A quick word, before I sign off, about the hosts. I was really disappointed by their performance. Their fielding was poor; they showed little urgency in the field; their field placings were bizarre at times; and they really let England off the hook. I was also completely underwhelmed by their plethora of spinners.
Maybe it was just the unresponsive nature of the surface but I expected Sri Lanka to be better than this. Their recent record isn’t great but it’s not too shabby at home. I’d be a little worried if I was one of their supporters. Replacing their great players of the recent past looks a very tall order.