Ben Foakes knew he was ready for his maiden Ashes tour – once he had dined with two veterans of the famous England-Australia series.
“I have had a few weeks now for it to sink in – and it’s taken a couple of weeks for it to sink in!” the wicketkeeper-batsman said of his call-up as Jonny Bairstow’s deputy during a chat with journalists inside the Lord’s Long Room on Friday.
“I couldn’t really process it too well until we had a get together at Loughborough and I went out for dinner with Jimmy [Anderson] and Broady [Stuart Broad] and had the team aspect.”
Perhaps Surrey director of cricket Alec Stewart gave the selectors food for thought when he described Foakes as the finest wicketkeeper in the world earlier this campaign. “If you asked me purely on glovework, he’s the best there is,” the former England stopper told ESPN Cricinfo.
Stewart was also pretty complimentary about his charge’s capabilities with the blade: “When he’s batting, he’s Test-match quality,” he added of Foakes, who averages over 40 in first-class cricket.
Foakes knows, though, that he faces an almighty battle to dislodge Bairstow from the England team – the Yorkshireman has racked up the runs since his Test recall in 2015 and is now immaculate with the mitts. No longer the keeper once described as akin to a “performing seal” by Sky Sports’ Bob Willis.
Barring an injury to Bairstow, a Test debut in Brisbane on November 23 looks unlikely for Foakes at this juncture – even though we are not yet sure how England will look to replace Ben Stokes – but Foakes will not be preparing as such.
“Jonny is world class – I can’t go out there expecting to replace him – but everything I am focused on is playing that first game. If doesn’t happen then there are four more games where I may be called upon.
“I have just got to make sure that at any stage the team needs me I am as ready as possible. It’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. You are training with new people, you have got an amazing opportunity.”
Bairstow followed in his late father David’s footsteps by becoming a wicketkeeper and Foakes’ dad Peter, who passed away in 2006, had a sporting background, too – he was a football referee who officiated in the Premier League.
Foakes laughed that Peter liked a red card – so will he be sending off any Australian batsmen from behind the stumps during the Ashes?
“I wouldn’t say I seek out people to sledge and I wouldn’t really go personal, but I think there are phases in the game where it might be beneficial to get inside the batter’s head,” he added.
It was Kumar Sangakkara receiving a send-off – a richly deserved guard of honour – when he concluded his first-class career this summer with an unbeaten 35 for Surrey against Lancashire. Foakes witnessing it from afar after suffering a first-ball dismissal earlier on!
Sangakkara’s final season was a blinder, the Sri Lankan, who has just turned 40, churning out 1,491 runs in 10 matches, including eight hundreds, to take his number of career first-class runs to 20,911 – and Foakes did not miss out on the opportunity to pick his brains.
“Kumar has been massive. Keeping-wise not so much – he won’t mind me saying that, he has got some different theories on keeping – but as a batter the amount of stuff he has taught me about building an innings and going up and down the levels has been a massive help.”
Foakes has extended his contract at Surrey until 2020 and will team with an Australian next term – all-rounder Mitch Marsh signing a deal to replace Sangakkara as the Oval side’s overseas pro.
This winter, though, Foakes will looking to defeat Marsh’s countrymen and knows that he and the younger members of the side, such as fellow uncapped players Mason Crane and Craig Overton, must “lift their game.”
“You have got the world-class performers who have done it year in, year out, which are obviously fundamental to any side, so it’s about how the younger, less experienced guys are able to lift our games, learn off them and develop. I can’t wait.”