The Return Of The Gloveman

Before the Ahmedabad autopsy begins, here’s new writer Dave Morton with something far less depressing …

Even to me, it came as a surprise. To someone younger, forty perhaps, it must have been a shock, a light-bulb moment. I refer to the arrival in the England Test team of Ben Foakes, not so much selected as ‘rotated in’, a wicket-keeper at last, after all those years.

There it all was: those swift and accurate feet, the balance and, above all, the lightning-fast hands. It took me back to my youth, watching Yorkshire at Bradford. Don Brennan was Yorkshire’s keeper when I first watched, and he was succeeded by Roy Booth, who went on to Worcestershire. However, it was the third B who stirred the imagination, a young man named Jimmy Binks.

Binks was a glorious keeper, of the quietly efficient type. Bradford was notorious as a raging turner when wet, which was often. It was the ground where Jim Laker had taken eight for two in a Test Trial match a few years earlier, and I had witnessed a game which was over by lunch on the second day, with 38 of the 40 wickets taken by spinners, Appleyard and Wardle for Yorkshire, Tribe and Broderick for Northants. This was 1955 and I had gone along to watch the newly famous Frank Tyson. He bowled seven overs in the entire match, and Trueman only five!

Booth kept wicket in that game, but when his time came Binks handled the two great spin bowlers with consummate skill. There was Illingworth also and Close and, later, Don Wilson. Binks caught the outside edges from Trueman’s thunderbolts, no problem, and often stood up to the brisk inswingers of Bob Platt. He remained Yorkshire’s wicket-keeper right through the glory years of the 1960s.

Godfrey Evans was the England keeper in the 1950s, and he was as much a fixture in the team as Hutton and Compton, Bailey and Bedser. He was said to be a great keeper, a bundle of energy, brave, and highly skilled. His place was never discussed. Ordinary people didn’t have television sets in those days, and I don’t remember seeing Kent at Bradford, so I probably never saw Evans keep.

Years passed. Binks was succeeded by more B’s, but he was never replaced. David Bairstow, Richard Blakey and then Jonny Bairstow were Yorkshire’s main keepers for decades. They were all decent, better than decent, perhaps, but none of them was Binks. Not even close.

England were luckier. There was a short period when batsman-with-gloves Jim Parks was keeper, but then came along two geniuses, almost together. Alan Knott and Bob Taylor, contrasting in style, were both great keepers. Taylor reminded me of Binks, Knott was something rocket powered and made of elastic. England cricket was in – literally – good hands.

Next cab off the rank was the eccentric, brilliant – and occasionally fallible – Jack Russell. He was a joy to watch, and to see the Gloucestershire one-day side dominate in the field, with Russell the hub and focus of everything, was something you could not forget. Except….it has been forgotten. I would have thought that this would be the template for T20 cricket, especially, but the trend seems to be the exact opposite.

In Test cricket, Alec Stewart was often preferred to Jack Russell. I have no problem with that, because Stewart himself was a very fine keeper. Unfortunately, the story seems to have ended there. It became the trend to insist that keepers be excellent batsmen, even at County level. There was a guy at Hampshire called Michael Bates. He really looked the part, but it was said he couldn’t bat. I actually saw him make a century against Yorkshire at Headingley, but he disappeared from the County game. James Foster looked good, too, and was certainly a decent enough bat for Essex over many seasons, but his International career was not a long one. I have no idea why.

Which brings us up to date. We have seen Jones and Ambrose and Prior, and now Bairstow and Buttler. They are all good cricketers, talented sportsmen, no doubt. I get round the country in an old Ford Fiesta. It’s a damn good car and it gets me there. I know it’s not a Rolls Royce. And the guys I go to watch are not Binks or Knott, but perhaps – and only perhaps – Ben Foakes really is a Rolls Royce amongst keepers. I hope he gets a long enough run for us to find out.

What really concerns me is something said by Andrew Strauss, in the studio during the recent Test. It was put to him that Foakes was the wicket-keeper we had all been waiting for, and he replied on the lines that it wasn’t something he had thought much about. “It’s just something old people go on about,” he said. That is certainly true; we do. And we’re probably going to have a Ford Fiesta keeping wicket for England for years to come, until there’s nobody left alive who remembers the real thing.

As an old person, I am going to have the last word. There was a young Lancashire lad, I think he was, keeping wicket for Durham against Warwickshire, who had the misfortune to drop Brian Lara. “Typical of my luck if he goes on to score a hundred,” he moaned.

Lara made 501.

[Bradford, May 1955. Yorkshire (94 & 104) beat Northamptonshire (61 & 59) by 78 runs. And you thought it turned in Ahmedabad.]

Dave Morton

33 comments

  • Very interesting article.
    Steve Rhodes could surely have joined that illustrious list had Yorkshire looked after him better ! I always rated him highly.

    I remember Brearley discussing wicket keepers and saying the when he was fielding at slip, you rarely heard the ball go into Bob Taylor’s gloves as he took it so smoothly.

  • Foakes should have been in the England side 3 years ago. I’ve watched him with Surrey from the start and he is exceptional. Heads and tails above Butler and Bairstow, and a better test batsman to boot. In this latest debacle he should have come in at 3. I fear that he’ll be dropped once Butler comes back for the home tests, Smith’s favourite of course.
    Surreys gain, England’s loss.

    • Well, if the selectors’ “favourites”–and I’m sure you don’t have any more evidence of that than Marc does–are the ones averaging 50 while almost everyone else is averaging less than 30, then I’ll take that!

      But I think it’s a false choice anyway. Neither Burns nor Bairstow has made any sort of compelling case to play in the top 3 (nor really has Crawley), and Pope and Lawrence have both been mixed at best this winter, so I don’t see why there’s any reason not to play both Buttler and Foakes, and only play one of Pope and Lawrence. If Buttler goes back to his 2019 form for any length of time then they can drop him and play both of them.

      And of course the irony in your comment is that Foakes WAS in the team three years, and the on-tour management dropped him to accommodate Bairstow’s obsession about being keeper.

      But I’m sure Surrey fans would be very happy. You’d even have him for the RLC…:-)

      Reply moderated
      • Sorry pressed report instead of reply.
        My point being they kept Foakes out all the time Butler wasn’t scoring. The issue is do you play the best keeper or not, England didn’t and for a long time.

        • You do realise Marc, don’t you, that you’re complaining about being “singled out” in reply to a comment where I’ve responded to a different poster’s use of the same word?!–which by definition means I’m not singling you out.

          I’m not immune to any evidence. There is no evidence, other than–as I’ve said already< I think more than once–if "favourites" means that he's picking the same people as part of his professional remit, which makes it a totally meaningless and nonsensical criticism (selector selects players shock).

          As far as I can see, you're just trying to shoehorn accusations of personal bias into a criticism of the decisions he takes in his professional capacity–which says much more about you than it does about him, including that you don't understand the difference between the two. It's like saying Root has a personal dislike of spin bowlers and that Archer, Broad etc are his "favourites" because you think that he captains spinners poorly.

      • Why has a world class talent been put on the sidelines for players who don’t even do that job full time for their county. Players incidentally given plenty of chances by the encumbent selectors, of which Smith is the chairman. If this is not favouritism I don’t know what is. You just seem immune to the overwhelming circumstantial evidence, which is as much as anyone is going to have to go on short of a public admission, which is not going to happen.
        I don’t know why you single me out for this Marek, as there’s plenty of other fellow bloggers who repeatedly draw the same conclusions.

  • With so many all-rounders available, the current England team could comfortably fit in Foakes and still have 5 bowlers available without weakening the batting line-up. But I fear you’re right – Buttler will come straight back in as soon as he’s available. Sadly, the days of the true specialist keeper in Tests are over- it’s only because Foakes is a pretty handy batsman that he gets a chance at all.

    The Durham keeper who dropped Brian Lara was Chris Scott – as Lara was on 18 at the time, probably the most expensive drop in cricket history! But that aside, Scott was a fine keeper who served us well in our difficult early years.

  • Precious assets like Buttler emerge from the tour with their egos and stats intact; expendables take a drubbing (and in one case their game seems to have been reduced to bits).

    One might almost think it had been designed that way….

    (BTW as a Hants’ fan I saw a fair bit of Bates and was annoyed by the county’s handling of him. He was a victim of the rest of the team’s batting weakness. The county replaced him by poaching Adam Wheater who didn’t even make that many runs. However it is fair to point out that another county could have snapped him up and nobody did.)

    • Well it could only have been designed that way if the managment had been clairvoyant…or if you’re accusing England of fixing the series.

      I’d have been livid about Bates if I’d been a Hants fan. If I recall, he had a short spell at Somerset, who treated him in the same way.

  • A wicket-keeper of Ben Foakes quality is another way we can get wickets. An extra “weapon” in the armory for England. Look how many potential and actual stumpings we got while he was keeping. Just need a decent spinner !!!!

  • Good article and illustrates how long the misguided in my view tradition of selecting less than best in specialist positions. Opening the innings with middle order batsmen is not a common practice, even now and the bowling with medium pacers likewise, so why are the best keepers often ignored. Their value is how many runs that extra ability saves you every innings., as much as how many they can’t score. I should point out I’m not denegrating the likes of Godfrey Evans, who was by all accounts a fine keeper and there was no suggestion his inclusion significantly weakened the test side. The difference between then and now is the advent of white ball cricket which has produced more bits and pieces men like Buttler and Bairstow, who fine attacking batsmen though they are when put in the test team can cost a lot of runs by missing catches and stumpings the like of Foakes would be more likely to take.
    As a Warwickshire man I well remember Geoff Humpage doing most of the keeping for us as he was a recognised batsman as well, in place of the much superior Keith Piper, who’s batting was at best useful. Unlike Bairstow, a player he had much in common with, Humpage cut a rather portly figure and was not the most agile of fielders, so playing him as an outfielder would have been something of a liability. Humpage was often selected for one dayers but was not taken seriously as test challenger for Bob Taylor’s place, probably the last keeper England selected who’s batting was pretty ordinary.

    • Surely the Humpage-Piper situation was caused more by the fact that Piper was still a teenager and that Humpage had been first-choice keeper for years by the time he arrived, wasn’t it?

      • Piper was a fine keeper from an early age, but not much of a batsman, Humpage was an effective aggressive middle order batsman and not much of a keeper. Fortunately for him after the exit of Gibbs Warwickshire never had much in the way of spinners to call on in the 70’s. Hemmings and Doshi were about it and they were hardly big spinners of the ball. A keeper’s most significant test is always how they deal with spin over seam, where technique is key. You can always tell from the stands as there’s almost no sound when a good keeper cushions the ball in his gloves. Neither Buttler or Bairstow have that quiet on taking the ball, neither did Humpage, but Piper certainly did. As I said it’s about the runs you save taking the catches and stumpings more than the runs you score.

  • With England’s penchance for collapsing, they can’t afford the luxury of a wicketkeeper at 7; they need a saviour. Someone in the Rishbah Pant mode, who can get his top order out of trouble time and time again, and occasionally play a match-winning innings.

    Apart from that 42 not out in the 1st innings of the 2nd Test in Chennai, Foakes’ scores have been 2, 12, 8, 1 and 13. I am not sure those are sufficient to dislodge an experienced, established player like Buttler from the team.

    In Foakes’ defence, I don’t think it’s fair to judge him on this tour alone, so I hope he plays in the NZ test series at home. If he can get some decent scores there, he’ll have a better chance to stake his claim. If not, I suspect Buttler will be back in the team, however much the purists dislike it.

    • Buttler would’ve struggled just as much as the other batsmen imho. His first class record is notably worse than Foakes. Sadly we don’t have anyone in Pant’s class. Personally, I think Ed Smith expected to lose this series and was quite happy to ‘rest’ (or perhaps, if I’m being cynical, a better word might be ‘protect’) one of his favourites. I really don’t understand why Buttler missed this series. He could’ve / should’ve missed SL or some of the upcoming white ball games instead.

      • Buttler missed most of this series so he could be fully available for the white ball series. You can’t possibly have expected our star white ball player to miss a white ball series in India when the upcoming T20 world cup is being held in India.

        As for whether Buttler would have struggled in this series, that’s beside the point. It’s Ben Foakes who was on trial here, not Buttler. If Foakes wants to dislodge him, he needs to be able to ‘save’ England on a regular basis. That’s the criteria he will be judged on by the selectors, not his wicketkeeping, which everyone knows he excels at.

        In this series, he wasn’t able to it, but as I said, it would be unfair to judge him on these conditions alone. That’s why I hope he plays in the next home series against NZ. If he can post good figures there, he deserves to be considered for a regular place, bearing in mind Buttler’s white ball commitments.

        If not, Buttler will be back, not simply because he’s someone’s favourite, but because there’s more potential for him rescuing England, having done it a few times in the past.

        • How many times has Buttler rescued England? He’s scored two centuries in over 60 Tests. His Test average is 34. That’s the about the same as Tim Paine, a cricketer nobody in England rates.

          • Obviously Buttler isn’t in the Ben Stokes or Rishbah Pant league, but he does have recent experience of digging in and making a difference:-

            vs Pak (first test 2018) : came at 104/5 .. scored 67 in a partnership with Bess

            – vs Pak (2nd test 2018) : came at 212/5 .. scored 80 no

            – vs Ind (3rd test 2018) : came at 62/4 ..scored 106

            – vs Ind (4th test 2018) : came at 122/5 .. scored 69 helping total to 271

            – vs Ind (5th test 2018): came at 134/4 .. scored 89 to help total to 332

            – vs SL (2nd test 2018): came at 65/3 .. scored 64 in rescue partnership with Sam Curran

            – vs SL (3rd test 2018) : came at 38/4 .. scored 64 in rescue partnership with Stokes

            – vs WI (3rd test 2019): came at 69/3 .. scored 67 in match defining partnership with Stokes

            – vs Aus (5th test 2019 ) : came at 170/4 .. scored 70 to take total to 294

            – vs WI (3rd test 2020) : came at 122/4 .. scored 67 in match defining partnership with Pope

            – vs Pak (1st test 2020) : came at 62/4 (dug out with Pope to take score to 219) in first innings and miraculously won the match in final innings chase with Woakes ( came at 106/4 chasing 277.. scored 75)

            – vs Pak 3rd test 2020 .. came at 127/4 .. scored 152 in record partnership with Crawley .

            – vs SL 1st test 2021 .. in first innings came at 132/4 .. scored 55 in defining partnership with Root; in second innings came at 89/4 .. scored 46 n.o in match winning partnership with Sibley
            (*stats courtesy of DrGupta, the Guardian btl)

            And of course, his biggest one was in the 2019 ODI World Cup final:

            v NZ…came in at 86/4…scored 59 in 110 run partnership with Stokes, plus superover 7 in 15 again with Stokes

              • You’ve put a lot of effort into that response mate! I do wonder, however, what scores a normal Test No.6 or No.7 would’ve made over the same period. Buttler has improved but he’s still no world beater.

          • This is my gripe about Buttler in Test cricket. He’s every bit as talented as an attacking batsman at Pant, but he never seems to play that sort of momentum changing innings. He gets out every time he tries. He’s played a couple of really good disciplined, semi-defensive ones that have changed or won matches, but he should also be doing what Pant does and Adam Gilchrist used to – making 100 when he’s come in at 100-5.

            • I agree with you. Buttler has never been able to single-handedly change a game; he’s only done it within a partnership.

              It may be because in T20 he’s a ‘finisher’, which requires him to play a fast innings not a big one, and where the emphasis is on having a huge strike rate.

              Nevertheless, my original point was that because England frequently tend to collapse, whoever keeps wicket for them will need to have the batting ability to bail them out of trouble.

              Otherwise, they won’t be picked, however good a wicketkeeper they are.

              If everyone thinks Ben Foakes is that man rather than Jos Buttler, then fair enough.

              However, right now, I don’t think the selectors believe he is.

          • I have provided 14 examples, including an ODI World Cup final, where Buttler has made a difference. Perhaps you would care to provide 15 examples of when Sam Curran has helped rescue England.

            • That one ton against India you cite, Englnad were so far behind in the game that they still lost by a massive margin. If that is changing the game, you might as well cite Chris Martin’s batting prowess as a game changer (eg. Jesse Ryder got to a double ton thanks to Chris Martin’s batting on one occasion too).

              • Not every rescue attempt will end in a successful outcome.

                The point is that those are all examples of when Buttler has produced a match-saving innings. Mostly it has come off, sometimes it hasn’t.

                I can see there is a lot of antipathy towards Buttler here, but Foakes didn’t (and truthfully, couldn’t) do enough with the bat in India to suggest he should be preferred in non-subcontinent conditions.

                I hope the selectors give Foakes the opportunity to prove himself in more favourable conditions in the next home tests against NZ. If he does so, then he’ll deserve to be considered for a permanent place.

  • It was a pleasure to watch Foakes in this series, but I fear he’s just played his last Test. He didn’t score enough runs. Sadly the number of runs he saved (byes stopped and wickets gained), which was probably around 200, isn’t sufficiently visible – and he won’t have to keep much to spinners in England.
    Separately, one very good keeper not mentioned in the article is Russell’s England predecessor, Bruce French. Pretty awful batsman though. I seem to remember him batting at 10 in one Test. Imagine that nowadays?

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