Welcome to part 4 of this series into the writing teams selection of the XII to face the West Indies. This time its selection of the keepers.
4 pure keepers are in the squad; Jonny Bairstow, Jos Butler, James Bracey and Ben Foakes. With Jos Buttler having had a torrid time in South Africa, his position is anything but guaranteed.
Last time out the middle order was met with uniformity from the writing team; will it be the same this time?
A painful dilemma. I know who I should pick. The better wicket-keeper, with a better test technique, and the option for the future, given the tours to India and Australia loom over the next two winters. Ben Foakes should be England's wicket-keeper, and I should pick him for the first test. And yet, should isn't will, because the back of my mind offers a dangerously exciting, if risky, and quite obviously stupid alternative.
Jos Buttler is not as technically talented with the gloves as Ben Foakes. Nor does he have the typical defensive batting style of Foakes, which is critical to success in the longer format. Buttler boasts a first-class record that is average (32.01), and his record in recent series has not been good. Foakes is the traditional choice, and the sensible option for the next few years, and therefore should play against the West Indies. Buttler, though a brilliant player, should not be England's test wicket-keeper.
But, and this is a but as powerful as a ball wacked with a flick of Buttler's wrists: his immense talent. Buttler does things with the bat that us weak mortals can only dream of, hitting the ball cleaner than peak Tiger Woods, making huge sixes look effortless, with his wristwork AB de Villiers-esque. His batting power not only rivals the US military's power; his brain is brighter than their Commander-In-Chief's. And if, and this is an if as big as a Buttler-thumped-six, if he were to find his timing in test cricket, Buttler would regularly win matches for England. He is too good a player to keep failing, and too rare not to give a third (or is it fourth, and in a few years fifth) chance to. Buttler may have struggled during last year and in the winter tours, but he was key to England's success against India in 2018, and this long Covid-19 caused break- something he lacked before last year's underwhelming Ashes, inclines me, forces me to think that giving Buttler one last go at test cricket may not be totally stupid, right, RIGHT?
After a brilliant reintroduction to the test team against India in 2018, Buttler looked like he could be a fixture in the side going forward, however since then his performances have dropped rapidly. It has been well documented that he struggles against the moving ball. The way England have attempted to negate this is by batting him as low as possible, in the hope when he comes to the crease it is against the old ball and he can counterattack if needed. Unfortunately, with the fragility in England’s batting lineup, it has often occurred that Buttler was batting much sooner than he should be. When this happened, he also ended up being stranded with the tail and without a solid technique to farm the strike was forced to try and score quickly to make something of his innings. In these situations, he would often get a couple of boundaries away and then slog one up in the air.
Another name being mentioned is Jonny Bairstow, for me he shouldn’t be anywhere near the test side just yet. After being dropped from the test squad for New Zealand, he was then required to cover injuries so was asked to stay on after the white ball leg of the tour finished. This was the worst outcome for him as it gave him hope of regaining the test place without having earnt it. Then he had to cover Ollie Pope’s absence in South Africa and struggled again, this only underlined the issues with his technique that is currently far better suited to the white ball game. Why he has not been left to flourish with the white ball squad this summer is appalling man management.
Ben Foakes to me is the only reasonable candidate but his selection again is not without faults. He had a brilliant start to his international career in Sri Lanka and helped secure the 3-0 whitewash over them. However, after injury he was unfairly not selected when he should’ve been. The downside to his selection is that he had a relatively poor 2019 championship season batting on the best wicket in the country meaning he is short on red ball form. However, this is the same for all the capped wicketkeeper options and therefore Foakes remains the best option in my eyes and should start the series. In reality, I can see England picking Buttler, but I am hopeful that Foakes plays instead.
James Bracey looks a very good young talent however could do with some division one runs under his belt before he becomes a realistic option for England.
Inside Edge Cricket
You score a hundred, you keep perfectly in difficult conditions, you have an average north of 40 and then you get dropped… is it any wonder that Ben Foakes struggled a little bit in the county championship last year with a 26.14 average? If you work tirelessly to finally get your England chance and then we dropped for absolutely no reason, I think my head would be in a weird place.
England love Jos Buttler, I love Jos Buttler…in white ball cricket. Jos has a 32 average in first class cricket and a 32 average in test cricket. However he’s coming off a year where he managed an average of 25 and looked a little lost, and at the start of this year he struggled too (16 average), he’s hit one century in 73 innings and I just don’t see him as a red-ball player.
I’m not going to get into the Jonny Bairstow conversation again. His average has been declining since 2016, he has a huge hole in his game and until he can prove that his form in red-ball is back to the standard England require, he shouldn’t be considered for selection. James Bracey considers himself a batsmen first and foremost, but he’s continually improved with the gloves after working with Bruce French. He scored a good 65 against Australia A and then followed that up with a 58 against Cricket Australia A, I think it’s a little bit too early for him right now but his time will come, especially if he continues to improve his first-class average.
For me the choice is obvious, it has to be Ben Foakes, but we all know it’s going to be Jos Buttler. Conclusion
Division in the ranks! Two votes for Ben Foakes and one for Jos Buttler. Who do you think should be keeping wicket this summer? Let us know on twitter; @InsideEdgeCricket
Next up; who is Englands choice of spinner; I sense controversy in the air...