The wicket-keeper position for England is like the Holy Grail, people love talking about it, yet we're no closer to finding the answer. I'd argue we're to blame for our own failing. There was a point in Sri Lanka where I thought we may have found the answer, yet Ben Foakes was unceremoniously dropped despite doing nothing to justify it. Great message to send to the current crop of players, perform with both gloves and bat and get dropped, have a declining average for 3 years and get another chance.
Right now, we're looking at a 3-way battle. Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler and Ben Foakes. We've spoken at length about Bairstows 9 lives, Jos is the man to dislodge but he's rarely shown the aptitude for test batting, and Ben Foakes must have dated Ed Smith's daughter and never called her again, at least that's the only reason I can think of for his consistent struggle to break into the starting lineup, despite possessing a 41.50 test average.
However, it won't always be like this. You'd be forgiven for thinking the cupboard is bear considering the frequency that England go back to Buttler and Bairstow, but that's simply not the case. So I decided to run through the counties and focus in on English keepers who could potentially be the future at the wicket-keeper position.
Harvey Hosein - 30.93 Average, 23 Years Old
Hosein is a young player who continued to develop nicely. At the moment he's probably better behind the stumps than he is with the bat. He took the gloves fulltime for Derbyshire in 2019 and he'll continue to keep in 2020. On his debut against Surrey back in 2014, he ended up taking 11 catches. He's not knocking on the door, but he's an interesting guy to watch considering he's got 47 games in first-class cricket at the age of 23.
Ned Eckersley - 32.65 Average, 30 Years Old
If you go back a fair few years, there was a little bit of talk around Eckersley. He's always been a decent keeper, first for Leicestershire and now Durham. Ned enjoyed an extremely good year last year, finishing the season with 720 runs at an average of 40. Unfortunately for Ned, I don't think that England call is ever going to come.
Will Buttleman - 0.00 Average, 20 Years old
Michael Pepper - 10.16 Average, 21 Years Old
Adam Wheater - 35.80 Average, 30 Years Old
Essex have good options behind the stumps and good English options at that. Wheater patiently waited behind James Foster for a while before moving to Hampshire so he could keep, he's now back with Essex and the starting keeper. Like Ned, I don't think his call will come.
I think the future for Essex sits with Will Buttleman, a player highly touted with both bat and gloves. He was heavily involved keeping wicket for Essex's 2nd XI last year, and while he probably didn't get the returns with the bat he was expecting in championship cricket, he'll hope his winter in Sydney playing grade cricket will lead him to a better year next year.
James Bracey - 35.45 Average, 23 Years Old
Will Bracey end up keeping wicket? Or will he be seen as just a batsman? That's the question. Bracey who's part of the England 55 training squad ahead of the international summer only kept wicket for Gloucestershire twice in the county championship last year, but he was the first choice keeper for the Lions during their unbeaten tour of Australia. I think it's fair to say his batting is ahead of his keeping, but Bracey is improving every year and his England debut won't be too far away.
Tom Alsop - 26.21 Average, 24 Years Old
Lewis McManus - 28.28 Average, 25 Years Old
Hampshire are blessed with a lot of batting talent, but unfortunately, it's not usually as a reslt of the keepers. McManus had a decent 2019 (29.26) and although Tom Alsop struggled with injury and a middling average in 2019, he did manage to hit three tons along the way. Alsop is the front-line keeper at Hampshire, but there's a lot of work to do before an England call is likely.
Sam Billings - 34.70 Average, 28 Years Old
Adam Rouse - 23.46 Average, 27 Years Old
Ollie Robinson - 30.17 Average, 21 Years Old
Jordan Cox - 17.75 Average, 19 Years Old
It's safe to say that Kent are unlikely to find themselves without a keeper. Jordan Cox has had a number of outstanding performances for the England U19 team, but with Ollie Robinson only two years his senior and the better keeper, I think he'll likely need to make his way as an out and out batsmen, or find a new home.
Robinson is coming off a season where he averaged 33.26 and took plenty of catches behind the stumps, at just 21 years of age he is already being touted as a future England player and his keeping skills continue to improve year on year. Billings is a fine player, but I hope Kent stick with Robinson as their keeper going forward to give him the best chance to fulfil his potential.
Jos Buttler - 32.35 Average, 29 Years Old.
George Lavelle - 0.00 Average, 20 Years Old
I don't think we need to spend too much time on Jos. He's a decent if unspectacular keeper in first-class cricket. He flashes with the timber but has never been able to consistently put up the numbers. He's the first choice keeper for England at the moment, but for how long?
George Lavelle is an extremely promising keeper-batsmen, and he's a true keeper-batsmen as well, showing great skill with both for Lancashire 2nd XI. He was named most valuable player at the Bunbury Festival, and finished the tournament as the leading run-scorer with an average of 98.80. He'll likely be an all-format type player, so I hope he dedicates
Lewis Hill - 23.53, 29 Years Old
Harry Swindells - 16.80, 21 Years Old
Lewis Hill has been a dependable keeper for Leicestershire since joining in 2015, but probably won't be making any international appearances in the future.
Harry Swindells is an interesting prospect, he's often been complimented on his impressive strokeplay but in 7 first-class appearances, he's failed to hit a half-century. The good thing is that Harry has experience with the England U19, is highly thought of as a keeper and a batsman and he's only 21 years of age. Hill shouldn't present much of a blocker for the young lad, so we'll find out what kind of player Swindells will become within the next 2-3 years.
Robbie White - 12.45 Average, 24 Years Old
John Simpson - 32.11 Average, 31 Years Old
Jack Davies - 0.00 Average, 20 Years Old
I've always thought that John Simpson doesn't get the credit that he deserves. He's coming off a fine season where he scored 773 runs at an average of 40.68 and has taken 467 catches over his career. He had a superb knock against Lancashire in 2019 (167) and although he's on the wrong side of 30, you just never know.
The future at Middlesex belongs to Jack Davies, a highly thought of prospect with the London club. He had a bit of an up and down season with the 2nd XI last year, sharing the gloves with Robbie White who hit some decent scores. It'll be interesting to see how they balance playing time going forward.
Adam Rossington - 35.16 Average, 27 Years Old
Rossington is coming off a superb season in 2019, averaging 46.29 with the bat and when we do get some first-class cricket again, he'll be leading Northamptonshire in the top-flight of English cricket. After taking over the captaincy in 2019, Rossington marched a team without a win to promotion and he did so with lightning-fast hands behind the stumps and an aggressive approach to batting. If he can repeat his 2019 form in the first division in 2020, he could be in for a call.
Tom Moores - 20.08 Average, 23 Years Old
I did contemplate putting Joe Clarke and Ben Duckett in here as they have occasionally taken the gloves, however, I wouldn't classify either as wicket-keepers and Moore's is 100% the first choice man at Trent Bridge. Moores is still a young lad but his future is likely in the white-ball game and not the red. He's coming off a disastrous county season in 2019 where his average was floating around 14. However, his white-ball form has been impressive and his List A average is 35.37. One to watch for the white-ball team, but we're talking tests here.
Steven Davies - 38.63 Average, 33 Years Old
Tom Banton - 27.14 Average, 21 Years Old
I've always thought of Steven Davies as a better longer format player than a shorter one, however, his England appearances (last of which was in 2011) was in the shorter format of the game. However, his 38.63 average and 532 catches behind the stumps show what a good first-class player he is. At 33 and with the others on this list, his time has passed for England caps.
Banton is a really interesting prospect. Some hold out hope that he will become an all-format player for England and he himself has said he aims to get into the test side. However, at the moment I still think he'll end up being a white-ball specialist. He has every single shot in the book, but can you (would you want) to tame his aggressive nature against an aggressive Aussie attack with the ball whizzing around. Good thing is he's only 21, but I can't help think the franchise formats may dent his development in the longest form of the game.
Ben Foakes - 38.01 Average, 27 Years Old
Ollie Pope - 61.13 Average, 22 Years Old
Ben Foakes is the best natural keeper in county cricket full stop. He showed in Sri Lanka that his defensive ability is of the highest calibre, and he also notched a ton as well. So why did England drop the best keeper in the land when he had a test average north of 40? Your guess is as good as mine. England messed around with Foakes and I blame his 2019 struggles with the bat partly on that. He's back in the fold and he should be starting, but for the time being he will back up Jos Buttler, a far worse keeper and a player who has a worse average. Only England.
Ollie Pope is an underrated keeper, however he's not on the same level as Foakes when it comes to that side of the game. He's said he wants to keep, but I'd prefer he just focus 100% on his batting. It may be that down the line he gets a shot, but right now he's the focal point of England's future and he should put all his energy into becoming one of the premier batsmen in world cricket.
Ben Brown - 40.01 Average, 31 Years Old
Brown is one of my favourite keepers in the game, he's superb behind the stumps and hes consistently performed with the bat. No keeper has been part of more dismissals over the last two years and he's coming off a season where he scored 812 runs at a click over 42. Don't forget he was the understudy to Matt Prior. I don't know why he doesn't get more attention when it comes to an England place, but it seems Ed may have forgotten he exists.
Tim Ambrose - 32.51 Average, 37 Years Old
Michael Burgess - 39.25 Average, 25 Years Old
Tim Ambrose is winding down his career, but he performed admirably when called upon for England. Michael Burgess is the new man in Birmingham, having spent the 2019 season on loan from Sussex, he joined Warwickshire on a two-year deal. He's also coming off a good if a shortened season, scoring 248 runs in 7 innings for an average of 41.33. He's a very handy white-ball player but his work behind the stumps in the red-ball game has also earned praise. He's another player worth watching out for, at just 25 years of age, his future is bright.
Ben Cox - 27.67 Average, 28 Years Old
Alex Milton - 17.90 Average, 24 Years Old
Alex Milton didn't play for Worcestershire all that much in 2019, and in the 6 innings he did manage he scored just 17 runs at a 2.83 average. Ben Cox did better, but even the 28 year old keeper could only manage 26.55 average. England have a lot of keeping options and a very bright future, however, I don't see much of that in Worcestershire.
Jonny Bairstow - 43.51 Average, 30 Years Old
Jonathan Tattersall - 32.51 Average, 25 Years Old
Ben Birkhead - 0.00 Average, 20 Years Old
I can't talk about Bairstow anymore, his climb to the top of the short-format game has coincided with a decline in his longer form batting. He's been given 9 lives by England, where most players barely get a second. I don't think he's the present answer and I don't think he's the future answer either.
I've got a lot of time for Tattersall, a player who has learned the position on the fly and he's shown significant improvement and is now the first choice keeper across formats. The thing with Tattersall is he's not the best pure keeper and he's not the best batsmen keeper, so I'm not sure he'll be in with much chance of an England call. Birkhead is the future at Yorkshire, in 2018 he scored 1,099 runs across all formats (mainly 2nd's) in 2018 and followed that up with 588 runs and 30 dismissals in 2019, he went to play Grade cricket in Australia over the winter and the hope is he can push Tattersall for the starting spot over the coming years.
England are not short of options when it comes to keepers. You'd be forgiven for thinking they were considering we see Bairstow and Buttler rolled out so often. However, England have options in the short and long term.
We all know about Ben Foakes, and he's my preference for the starting job right now. However, I also like Ben Brown, who's shown a little more consistency with the bat, he's not the same calibre keeper as Foakes but I think he deserves a shot.
You then start looking at people like James Bracey who England rate highly. Michael Burgess is a talent worth watching as is Adam Rossington and Ollie Robinson.
In the longer term and talking developmental prospects. I'd be putting my money on either Yorkshire's Ben Birkhead or Lancashire's George Lavelle being the future.
The bottom line? There is no need for England to keep going over the same mistakes. The cupboard is far from bare.