Even if Ben Foakes is “the best wicketkeeper in the world” he’s only worth so much to England

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“Ben [Foakes] is the best wicketkeeper in the world,” said Ben Stokes last summer. “That’s not just my own opinion, that’s a lot of people’s opinions.” Since Stokes said that, Foakes has been left out of England’s Test team in favour of Ollie Pope – who isn’t even a wicketkeeper – and now Jonny Bairstow.

The first time Pope got the nod ahead of Foakes it was because the Surrey man had been repeatedly consumed by an urgent necessity on the eve of a match against Pakistan. They stuck with Pope for the next game too though even though Foakes had regained solidity of the bowels by then.

We’re not quite where we were in 2019, but it still seems very much an option to not pick Ben Foakes. Jonny Bairstow has edged him out for the Ireland Test now.

Does this mean that Stokes was either lying or getting carried away when he described Foakes as “the best wicketkeeper in the world” then? Not necessarily. Maybe he thinks keeping is less important than batting. Or maybe he thinks it’s exactly equally important and that Bairstow isn’t massively inferior at it while being significantly better at batting.

Maybe as decisions go, it’s really very close.

> Two dismissals an innings and over: who was Test cricket’s busiest wicketkeeper?

There is almost no head-to-head between wicketkeepers that doesn’t end up reduced to the ‘Pure Keeper versus Batter-Who-Keeps’ trope. Whatever the actual abilities of the two players involved, these two stereotypes are so long established, they almost can’t help but impose themselves. Often people will pick a side of the argument and view their player quite realistically while simultaneously pigeonholing the other guy.

It’s a great argument though because it twangs at people’s sense of fairness. If two players are of a similar level of overall ability but with a different balance of skills, it’s hard not to conclude that the eventual selection decision wasn’t made because of some fairly minor personal preference.

And honestly, maybe it is that. If shopping in the internet age has taught us all anything, it’s that sometimes whims and random prejudices can be a great way to overcome decision paralysis.

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  1. Yeah. That’s all Foakes.

    Bit gutting for Archer as well. How many tests is he ever going to play?

  2. I sense that, in the circumstances, there is a case to play Jonny in the Ireland test as a confidence boosting thing.

    Ben Foakes has been keeping all spring to high class bowling for a winning team.

    Wouldn’t be surprised to see both players in the starting XI at Edgbaston, especially if Jonny can rack up some serious runs…

    …but not the “Foakes In Pakistan” sort of runs.

    1. Also a decent case that Bairstow will be in the Ashes team somewhere or other, so maybe they think they’ll get him back in and then decide exactly what his job will be nearer the time.

      Looks like a first choice England team for the Ireland Test though, which is good.

    2. Best keeper vs best batter/keeper has been a selectorial point for over 60 years with the England team. JT Murray vs Jim Parks; Jack Russell vs Alec Stewart, and now Ben Foakes vs Johnny Bairstow. Only Alan Knott (and Bob Taylor) paused this ongoing discussion…

    3. Prior/Read too for a long while. What’s striking is how perceptions of the players’ characteristics polarise. Bairstow is a really good keeper and Foakes is a really good batter, but measuring one against the other skews everyone’s sense of that.

  3. Agree with Jed.
    Suspect Stokes has more faith in Foakes than Crawley but Foakes isn’t likely to take his spot opening the batting.
    Obviously, Crawley needs to make runs and convince to retain his place to the final Ashes Test, Less obviously, who would open rather than Crawley?

  4. Recall a Woakes, drop a Foakes. You just can’t have too many rhyming players together at one time.

  5. Flash forward to the first Test. YJB drops a chance behind the sticks. The Hollies stand rise as one to exclaim: ‘Boo-airstow!’

    1. My recent relevant experience of observing the Hollies test match crowd from the Raglan Stand opposite tells me that the Hollies crowd is quite incapable of doing ANYTHING as one.

      Not even the perpetual pint-swilling is synchronised.

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