Keeping Tabs On Future England Stumpers

Who should be England’s test wicket keeper this summer? It’s not a simple question. Although Jos Buttler has cemented his place as our limited overs keeper – and a fine player he is too – things aren’t so clear when it comes to the test side. It’s something England haven’t got right for quite a while.

The man in possession is obviously Jonny Bairstow, who had mixed tour of South Africa. His batting was excellent – he looked composed and the technical improvements were there for all to see – but his keeping was, how can I say it, a little scruffy . There were too many errors and he didn’t look like a natural mover to me.

What’s more, I wonder whether Jonny’s batting form improved simply because he was down at seven and playing as an all-rounder. It seemed to liberate him. He looked far less comfortable at the crease when he was playing as a specialist batsman (at five or six) when the ball was harder and the critics were scrutinising his method.

The main competitor for Jonny’s place seems to be Buttler at the moment. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the selectors looked in a completely new direction if they moved away from Bairstow. Jos has an average first class record and I don’t think his game is suited to test cricket: his feet don’t move well, he’s a little bottom handed, and although he hasn’t really been tested against the short ball yet, I think there might be a weakness there.

If the selectors did decide to look beyond Jos, who is the next suitcase off the carousel? It’s far from clear cut. One man in contention could be Surrey’s Ben Foakes, who has long had his admirers. Foakes has been touted as the best young keeper in the country for a while. He only left Essex a year ago because James Foster, who must be the exception to the so called Essex mafia rule, was undroppable yet never got picked for England.

I’m not sure whether Foakes is the finished article but he’s obviously got a lot of potential. I wasn’t convinced by his batting twelve months ago but he’s clearly making progress. His first class average is now up to 38 (with five hundreds) and that’s certainly good enough for a number seven. I’ll be watching his early season form with great interest, especially now Alec Stewart has confirmed that Foakes will be first choice at Surrey this season.

This news from Surrey will no doubt frustrate another candidate for the England test keeping job: the highly talented Steve Davies. After taking a break from keeping in 2014 – which was a tad surprising given that Matt Prior’s retirement had just opened up a spot in the side – Davies has decided to take the gloves again. He’s even prepared to leave Surrey in order to get a regular keeping gig. An international return is very much on his mind.

As a Worcestershire man, I’ve long been a fan of Davies. He’s an incredible striker of a cricket ball and a real entertainer to watch. His keeping was also solid enough too, and certainly a level above both Bairstow and Buttler (although Jos is improving). Steve is only 29 years old so he should be coming into his prime. I can think of worse candidates to replace Bairstow if that’s what the selectors decide to do.

The next candidate, although it might be a bit early for him, is another player with strong ties to New Road. I’m referring, of course, to young Joe Clarke. He might only be 19 years old, but Clarke is a developing keeper and a highly promising young batsman. He averages 41 in first class cricket and already has two hundreds and four fifties in just 12 games. Amazingly he’s already played T20 cricket for the England Lions. I can’t remember the last time an English teenager made a Lions tour.

Clarke is certainly someone to keep an eye on. He’s a little bit special by all reports, and Michael Vaughan picked him in a hypothetical England side for next year’s Ashes series down under. Although it’s hard for players so young to make an impact in test cricket, Mark Boucher started playing for South Africa at an incredibly young age; therefore it wouldn’t be unprecedented.

The final keeper to make this shortlist is Sam Billings – if only because he’s already clearly on the selectors’ radar. However, I’m not so sure he’ll be in the running for a test place any time soon. Billings is a fantastic one-day batsman but his keeping needs some work and his first class record isn’t anywhere near as convincing: he averages 43 in List A games but only 31 in ‘proper’ cricket. He’s obviously highly talented though. If he can cement a role in England’s ODI or T20 sides then he might be in with a shout. Unfortunately there’s a rather large Jos shaped obstacle in his way.

I’d be interested to hear your views on England’s wicket-keeping dilemma. Perhaps you think Bairstow is the man for the foreseeable future? Maybe you’re fed up with picking batsmen who keep and just want England to select the best pure keeper available – and if so, who is that?

I’d also like to know if there’s anyone else you think should be on this list. Perhaps you’re a Gareth Roderick, Alex Davies, Ben Duckett, Adam Rossington, Ben Brown or Adam Wheater fan? There are certainly a lot of promising young guys around. Thoughts?

James Morgan


  • Hi James as a keeper I always think this doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Here’s my views. I’m not the biggest bairstow fan to say the least. He is the worst GLOVEMAN out of those you’ve discussed and I have never been convinced about him with the bat, he played a good number of tests before SA and never looked test quality. I think what you’ve said about the move to 7 may be right, he wasn’t really under much pressure. I wouldn’t pick him for Sri Lanka. The alternatives are many and butlers ipl deal states if Bairstow goes down injured he will be picked in the tests so this discussion may be pointless but interesting all the same. I personally think that although buttlers technique is not classical by any means, he is too talented not to be able to play test cricket and I think we have seen he can already. Before the ashes he was playing brilliant knocks with the bat and I think the angle of starc and Johnson was what first unsettled him. I also think his keeping has become genuinely impressive now and is one of the better young glovemen. I want him playing the first test of the summer honestly. Foakes is a good player but from what I’ve seen not the best of the rest. The three ‘others’ if like to see are Davies Clarke and Duckett. Duckett could be an excellent batsman and looks good at the top for Northants where he isn’t suited but probably isn’t in contention for test keeper spot at the minute. Like you I am also from Worcestershire (ish) so think highly of the other two. Davies deserves a test cap I think, he is the best batsman of all the keeper options right now, before injury last year he was scoring runs for fun and it is disappointing he hasn’t got the gloves full time. Hopefully that will change but surely he is good enough anyway? Then there’s joe Clarke who I think is the most talented young player on the circuit and agree with Vaughan that he may get a chance early. He has a complete batting game and we all like to see guys we have played against go far. That said he doesn’t look to be snatching the gloves of cox anytime soon so may be pushing for a batting slot which isn’t beyond realms of possibility.

    Buttler first choice, Steve Davies a close second.

    • One more thing on the Bairstow situation, there were many pundits who just said it doesn’t matter he can’t keep because he’ll learn like prior. Yes you can improve but when there are better options they should be playing ahead of him. His movement standing back is quite tough to watch and standing up he looks all at sea. Buttler can play and I think a season playing FC cricket would just help him find a tempo to play at which should give him more confidence

      • What nonsense do we have from you AB?! Keeping is crucial and we have not got it right so far. Foster should have replaced Prior while giving Buttler more time to develop his skills in a less pressured environment. But that is old hat now and we have been in a keeping flux ever since. The role of the keeper and his selection needs looking at and it needs sorting, fast.

        • I was moaning about this: “I think the angle of starc and Johnson was what first unsettled him”

          There is no angle. Both left handers and right handers bowl from the same angle – right in front of you. Its not French cricket.

          • Apologies! Being no more than a back garden player I don’t know much about angles. All I can say from my limited technical experience is that as a test player Buttler did not seem to know whether he was Arthur or Martha. Hope to see him back one day because he is supremely gifted. A lad with great potential.

            • Jennyah, when out of form you could say he looked wrong but until the ashes he looked accomplished as he was IN FORM. In discussions like this it’s easy for us fans to discount the effect of form on mindset and technique. A buttler in form is probably the best keeper bat worldwide, we just haven’t seen enough of it yet :)

        • Hey Jen, I know we’ve agreed about this for a long time. The selectors screwed up after Prior. Foster should have come in and batted at 8. With a combo of stokes, Ali and keeper at 6/7/8 in whatever combo we didn’t need a batting keeper. The likes of Butler, Jonny and Foakes should have been told to play 1 or 2 seasons of full time first class cricket both keeping and batting 5 or 6. Surrey should have been told Foakes had to keep. This would have developed both facets of their game. Both Jonny and Butler are both technically flawed for test cricket. I would be gobsmacked and disappointed if Foakes doesn’t emerge with his natural talent and enviable position of being under Stewart’s tutorship. I don’t think he’s ready yet but maybe one more season so another year of muddling by due to poor decision making by the selectors again.

      • Haha AB starc and Johnson are unique to English players because of their low arm, from where they deliver the ball batsmen expect it to go across them but because of their actions it doesn’t. If like buttler you control the bat with your bottom hand this makes it difficult to stay balanced and not play across the line

        • What do you mean go “across” them. You mean swing away? All balls come towards the batsmen from the bowler. There is no “across”.

          Ps, Mitchell Starc doesn’t bowl with a low arm.

              • Equally confused.
                Let’s keep this relatively simple…top class left armers pose a problem if they can bring the ball in. This creates doubt as to whether the ball will swing in or follow its natural angle away from a RHB thereby bringing both slips and lbw into play. Height of arm doesn’t really influence this. Starc and Boult are good modern day exponents of this (both with high arms) but previous bowlers such as Wasim, Vaas, Sidey all could do this. Key is wrist position.
                Personally I think any top class bowler, right or left hand, expose both JBs. Their limited footwork, lack of knowing there their off stump is and weakness at playing through midweek (particularly bairstow) is what exposes them. Neither has shown either the ability or willingness to correct these flaws.

              • Agree with this yorkie, I think bairstows had enough sample size to show he isn’t test quality. Buttler isn’t classical and nor should we try and make him. If he spent the full season playing for lancs he’s got the talent to find a method I have no doubts and on form he’d be the best in world cricket. Starts arm isn’t malinga by any means but does have a slingy action which static feet and a strong bottom hand will be tough to face if it swings

        • You were doing well until you said “or follow its natural angle away from a RHB ”

          The ball either swings in or it swings away. It can’t do both. There is no such thing as a “natural angle away”.

  • May I be the first to grab the Pom poms and cheerlead Jonny to be given a decent run. ‘1, 2 and then a 3 Johnny B’s the one for me!
    4, 5 and’ ahhhhh!
    Something’s gone! Sorry, need to lie down….

  • I’m a Wuzter fan too, James. Steve Davies back to New Road, and then straight into the England Test team. That’ll do for me!

    Buttler keeping 50 overs and T20s. Davies could get into them squads just as a opener, Roy and Hales notwithstanding. He’s a tidy fielder, too.

  • ” his feet don’t move well, he’s a little bottom handed” sounds like you could easily be talking about Jonny Bairstow! Even that mention of the possible weakness against the short ball, although in fairness he has come on in this department since those early Tests against Kemar Roach. Both JBs have got ample room to improve. Personally I’d prefer Buttler as he’s the better keeper but it would be harsh to drop Bairstow now. It’s taken him a while to realise his Test batting potential, and what he showed in SA was above anything Jos has done in whites. Give Jonny another go against Sri Lanka to see if he’s improved, hopefully he’s been working hard in the off season. But if he’s still dropping clangers, well….

  • Bairstow will keep this summer until/unless he fails badly, so I think the discussion is for now somewhat moot.

    I quite like that Clarke suggestion, but it would fairly amazing for England’s selectors to chance their arm like that.

  • Jos buttler will never ever make a test quality batsmen unless the decline in standards of test cricket continues (which surely is worrying is it not ??)

    Anyway, Bairstow isn’t a test quality batsmen either but tbh.. While test cricket is by far to me best format sadly it’s quality is declining and so, there are quite a few players who really aren’t good enough who are doing perfectly well in test cricket in the modern era.

    England can play any of the options about and not really gain or lose anything

    • Buttler never good enough for tests? Just watch 4th innings knock at headingley last year and at OT year before. Not hundreds but proper knocks early in a career. Could do with a season batting in CC I think.

  • As a Worcestershire man how can you not mention Ben Cox? Clearly the best glove man in County Cricket after James Foster. His batting is coming along very well too.

  • Interesting that this topic has popped up again.
    It seems Bairstow is pretty secure now. Although like a few I suspect a nightmare ashes might change that.


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