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?