During the recent Test series in Sri Lanka, England had to sort out the No 3 conundrum. They tried Moeen Ali in the first Test and Ben Stokes in the second in that position but without much success. Given how well Ben Foakes had kept wickets, the tourists were reluctant to take the wicketkeeping gloves off him and instead played Jonny Bairstow, their number one wicketkeeper when they arrived on the tour, at number three. Bairstow delivered with a hundred at SSC and moving forward that seems to be the route they will take.
Foakes has helped England balance the side as the wicketkeeper and batting at number seven allowing Bairstow to move to three.
Foakes had an outstanding tour of Sri Lanka and was named Player of the Series. He finished the three-match series as the highest run-getter from either side. He also contributed for ten dismissals and no England player since Kevin Pietersen had impressed so much on a debut series. The 25-year-old amassed 277 runs at 69 but just numbers don't give a complete picture. There is more to Foakes than just runs.
Former Sri Lankan great Kumar Sangakkara, who was Foakes' team-mate for three seasons at Surrey gives us some insight.
“Ben has been at Surrey for a while. It took him time to take the gloves from Garry Wilson. Ever since he did that, he showed what a wonderful keeper he is. He will have a very good international career. He is a lovely human and lives by values that I admire a lot,” Sangakkara told Firstpost.
Foakes' Test debut came as a surprise for many and for the player himself. He had just returned to London after a trip to Lisbon. Two of his Surrey team-mates Arun Harinath and Ryan Patel had accompanied him to Portugal. Then, he got a call from Ed Smith, England's selector to pack his bags and fly to Colombo as cover for the injured Bairstow. It was the last thing he was expecting and was looking forward to six months off from cricket after a hectic time with Surrey and England Lions.
A week before the first Test, it was clear that Bairstow will not be fit for Galle.
England had decided to move on. Both Buttler and Foakes played the two warm-up games ahead of the first Test and it was Buttler who kept wickets.
But for the first Test, they took a gamble by letting Buttler player as a specialist batsman and handed the gloves to Foakes. What a masterstroke it turned out to be.
The sub-continent is not the easiest place to keep wickets. Many thought that Buttler, who has heaps of experience here having played previously, should have got the nod. But soon people were convinced that England had made the right call for Foakes' keeping was top notch.
“Everybody is talking about the positioning of his hands, but look at how nicely his legs move and how nicely his head and body are positioned behind,” Sangakkara said.
“His batting has been outstanding. Sri Lanka is a difficult place to make your debut. He has shown great composure when under pressure. His defense has been tight and then he has trusted his instincts and attacked. He can play as a pure batsman if the team needs. This is an example of how much wicketkeeping has changed over the years. Buttler and Bairstow better start thinking as pure batsmen in the Test side from now on."
Rarely did he fluff a chance and during the series outshined his Sri Lankan counterpart Niroshan Dickwella.
When former England captain Alec Stewart outlined Foakes as the best wicketkeeper in the world two years ago, many were amused. People felt that Stewart was backing his beloved Surrey charges. However, Foakes with his exceptional keeping, proved that there was merit in what Stewart was saying.
There’s no doubt that England used their reviews better while Sri Lanka messed it up. On one occasion, they finished both reviews even before Rangana Herath came onto bowl. England for example in the second innings of the third Test had reviews left as late as 74th over of the Sri Lankan innings and it came in handy.
Foakes was spot on in urging his skipper what to review and what not. Dickwella was overenthusiastic with his appeals and confused his captain. Foakes, meanwhile, assessed things carefully and his judgments were spot on.
He was a class act with the bat. England were all at sea in the first session of the series in Galle having elected to bat. The tourists had lost 103 for five before lunch.
It was Foakes who, along with the lower middle order, stitched crucial partnerships to help England post a competitive total of 342. He had rescued England out of deep trouble and went on to score a hundred on debut spending some nervous moments with the last man James Anderson before completing the milestone. Not many debutants have come to this part of the world and showed such maturity.
Equally important was his unbeaten 65 in the second innings at Pallekele. During that knock, he shared 41 runs for the last wicket with James Anderson, valuable runs when you consider that Sri Lanka lost by 57 runs.
Having previous experience of playing in Sri Lanka certainly helped. He had been to Sri Lanka with the England Under-19 and England Lions. He had also represented Colts Cricket Club six years ago playing a few one-day games. Off-spinners Dilruwan Perera and Akila Dananjaya, who played the Galle Test, had been his team mates during Colts days and having played alongside them gave him an edge over the other England players.
Not many teams come to Sri Lanka and whitewash them. England were able to follow what Virat Kohli’s side did in 2017 and Ricky Ponting’s side did in 2004. They owe it hugely to one man. Ben Foakes was rightly named Player of the Series. There's much more to expect from him going forward.