When Ben Foakes made 107 runs from 202 balls on debut in Galle in 2018, he became just the 20th Englishmen to make a century on debut. Just the 4th Englishmen to score a century on debut in Asia. Just the 5th wicket-keeper to score a century on debut, and just the 2nd English wicket-keeper to score a century on debut.
After appearing in five tests for England where he showcased first-class glove-work and averaged 41.50 with the bat, he was dropped. A wicket-keeper who didn't put a foot wrong with both gloves and bat was exiled into the cold world of county cricket.
If the decision seemed strange at the time, it hasn't aged well, in fact it's aged as badly as your standard Michael Vaughan tweet.
Despite Foakes touring Australia and New Zealand as Bairstow's back up in 2017/18, the reintroduction of Jos Buttler to the test fold relegated Foakes to 3rd choice keeper, despite the clear evidence that he was by far and large the best out-and-out keeper.
Fast-forward to the end of 2019 and here we are. A year in which Bairstow averaged 18.56 (bringing his career average down to 34.74) and Buttler averaged 25.10 (bringing his career test average down to 31.75) it seems incredible that Ben Foakes was unable to secure a place on the tours to New Zealand and South Africa.
However another year presents another chance for Ed Smith to get it right.
Ben Foakes experienced a very difficult 2019 campaign, scoring just 575 county runs at an average of 26.14, not ideal for a player looking for a recall. However county averages have rarely prevented England from making bold calls, Zak Crawley got presented with his first chance despite only averaging a touch over 30 in county cricket, and that's for an out and out batsmen.
It's not uncommon for players to elevate their game and perform better for England than their county. Michael Vaughan finished his career with a higher batting average in tests than in county cricket.
Lets also not forget that despite averaging 26 last year, Ben Foakes currently holds a 38.01 first class career average. That's not bad for a batsmen, let alone a wicket-keeper batsmen.
There's always been an argument around how much added value a top-class wicket keeper gives a test team. Despite Alec Stewart and Kumar Sangakkara waxing poetic about Foakes consistently over the last 3 years.
The simple fact is that it's hard to prove. However what's the argument for having a weaker keeper and weaker batsmen in the team over someone like Foakes. Because at the moment
that's what England are doing. In Sri Lanka you need your best keeper, even if the rumours are true and Sri Laka are going to prepare quicker pitches, you need your best glove-man. That's Ben Foakes by a country mile.
After his performance in Sri-Lanka in 2018, Joe Root called him a "natural" behind the stumps.
When Chris Silverwood took charge of the England team last year, he said he wanted England to be more attritional when it came to tests. A little more traditional in squad make-up. In tests you need a reliable #7, someone who can grind out a tough innings, someone who can piece together a score. Someone who can bat smartly with the tail, Ben Foakes has shown he can do all of that and more.
England have been guilty recently of trying to fit too many square pegs into round holes. We want a team full of all-rounders but in test cricket that's a dangerous strategy.
Personally, I'm a little like Matt Prior in what I want to see in my test team. I want the following:
1-2 - Patient openers who are willing to take their time, take the shine off the ball and build.
3-5 - Specialist batsmen who average 45 and take the game away from opponents
6 - Specialist all-rounder who makes things happen in every facet of the game.
7 - Specialist wicket-keeper who's job is to average 30+ and be a first class keeper
8-10 - Three seamers with varying pace and movement. Any runs are a bonus
11 - Specialist spinner who can get through overs and offer something different.
Obviously the makeup of your team changes depending on where you are in the world and what the pitches look like. However by and large that's the kind of team I want to see regularly.
Ben Foakes is England's best wicket-keeper and he simply must go to Sri Lanka.