Only weeks after he was named man of the series in Sri Lanka, Ben Foakes feels he could have no complaints if he was dropped for the Antigua Test, and accepts there is huge pressure on his position as England look to balance their side following a crushing defeat in the first Test.
Certainly in Barbados, England looked as if they needed another seamer. And while one option might be to drop a spinner, another is to give the gloves back to Jonny Bairstow and omit Foakes for either Stuart Broad or Chris Woakes.
While that would be tough on Foakes, he accepts that, having scored seven runs across the two innings in Barbados and dropped a catch, he did not make as compelling a case for his retention as he would have liked. So while most would accept he is the best keeper available to England and while it is not too long since he was considered as a specialist batsmen (he had moved ahead of Gary Ballance by the end of the Ashes in Australia and was next in line for selection had one of the batsmen suffered an injury), he is aware that he can ill-afford an off-day.
“I didn’t perform last game, so I can’t sit there and say ‘Why did you drop me’,” Foakes said. “I did really well in Sri Lanka and I completely want to play the next game. But we lost by 300-odd runs and if a change is needed, a change is needed.”
This was a debate that was always likely to happen. With three men who have kept wicket at Test level in the England side, it was always likely that Foakes’ position would come under pressure if the side endured a bad game. And while England’s plethora of all-rounders should allow room for a keeper of Foakes’ class, the lack of runs from the batsmen is leaving him vulnerable.
While Foakes says he tries to remind himself how fortunate he is to have played at all this winter – he had originally planned to take it off and was on holiday when called up for the injured Bairstow when England were in Sri Lanka – there’s a suspicion that the pressure of playing with two other keepers in the side is tough to handle.
“It’s fine,” he says. “It’s a unique situation, but there’s no awkwardness. We train with each other. Jonny has done a fantastic job.
“You can’t think ‘am I going to get picked; am I not going to get picked? It will drive you crazy. I’m just preparing for the next game. If I get the nod, I get the nod. If not, then good luck to whoever does.
“There are so many distractions in cricket – so many things out of your control – and if I start thinking about them, it won’t be good for me mentally.
“I didn’t think I’d be in Sri Lanka. Then I thought I would have one game and then Jonny would be back. And then I did well and kept the spot. So throughout my career, I’ve always felt, not that it’s a bonus and I don’t want to say I feel lucky to be here, but that things have fallen into place, so it’s just up to me to take the opportunity.
“If I try and do my best then I’m satisfied. If I can get a chance and give everything I’ve got, you can’t have too many regrets.”
Foakes was not the only player to endure a poor game in Barbados. The bowling attack looked horribly over-reliant on James Anderson and Ben Stokes, while the batting collapsed in both innings. While Foakes does not quite endorse Trevor Bayliss’ view that the side lacked “guts and determination” he does accept they were “way below” their best and that they perhaps lacked “clarity” in their second innings over whether they were trying to win or blocking for a draw.
“We knew they’d be a good team,” he said. “We didn’t think we’d lose by 300 runs but we knew they were a good team with some amazing players. They played extremely well. But we were well under par and way below where we should have been. We have a lot more to give.
“I don’t know if it’s just valuing your wicket more in that sort of situation. It’s a strange when you have to bat for two-and-a-half days. On one hand you’ve the 600 target, on the other you’re thinking do we play for a draw. So maybe it’s that clarity about what you’re going for, whether you’re completely blocking out the target and saying ‘you’re not getting me out.’ I think there was still a sense that we could win the game.”
England flew to Antigua on Monday and will train at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium on Tuesday.