Ben Foakes will keep his place as England’s wicketkeeper in the second Test against Sri Lanka – regardless of Jonny Bairstow’s fitness.
Bairstow’s absence in Galle last week opened the door for Foakes to make what team-mate Jos Buttler playfully described as “the best debut ever” and the Surrey gloveman has been told he will hold on to the job in Kandy.
Despite taking full part in a rigorous session in sapping conditions at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium on Monday, England have not taken a final view on Bairstow’s ankle injury, though he now knows he is vying for selection as a specialist batsman.
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The Yorkshireman takes great pride in his improvement as a keeper in recent years and relishes the responsibility but, by living up to his reputation as county cricket’s most polished operator and adding the small matter of a maiden century, Foakes rendered himself effectively undroppable.
“Ben is going to keep. We’ve come to Sri Lanka to win this tour and in these conditions, I think he is the best option behind the stumps,” captain Joe Root said.
“It’s a great opportunity for Ben to show his ability and I think you’ve got to reward a performance like last week.”
Buttler, who has kept wicket in 16 of his 26 Tests but now looks likely to answer the call as a number three batsman, was even more effusive about Foakes’ efforts.
“Foakesy had a fantastic game in Galle… probably the best debut ever in Test cricket,” he said with a smile.
“By lunch on day two, he had a hundred, a stumping and a catch. It’s going pretty well.”
Root was keen to give a nod of encouragement to his White Rose team-mate but there was a hint that Bairstow might be asked to sit out again if England’s medical staff suspect he is anywhere short of peak condition.
“Jonny is a fine keeper and what he’s done over the last couple of years has been exceptional,” said Root.
“He’s pretty much been faultless, not really stood out at all which is probably a good thing for a wicketkeeper, and long-term see him as a focal part of the Test team.
“He seems to be in a pretty good place but it’s quite a serious injury. I think he’s still a week or so off being 100 per cent. He’s mad keen to get back out there and play.
“Seeing him pretty much as close to flat out as he can be at the moment in the fielding and with his batting, it’s a good sign.
“For him to recover as quickly as he has from that kind of injury is testament to how hard he and the medical staff has worked to get him fit again.”
While there is a sense Bairstow must be handled carefully – the transition to Foakes must be done sensitively if England are to get the most out of his predecessor’s batting talents – Buttler appears more at ease.
It is not long since he was viewed as a white-ball specialist so whether he slides down the pecking order of glovemen or up the batting card, he is simply happy to be on the Test stage.
“I’m just happy to be in the team right now, whether it’s keeping or not. It’s just a short while ago Test cricket was a mile away for me,” he said.
“In this part of the world, it doesn’t matter too much where you bat. I think the style of cricket is very similar – probably a 90 per cent chance of starting your innings against spin.
“For me personally, you’re just trying to read the game and play accordingly, whatever position you’re batting. At three you’ve got a lot of time, so if you can get yourself in there’s a potential to score a lot of runs.”
With Moeen Ali failing twice at first drop in Galle, Ben Stokes facing a tough all-rounder’s workload and Root publicly stating his preference for number four, it is increasingly likely Buttler will be promoted, at least on a temporary basis.