After being in disarray at the start of the tour, the England Test team is starting to take shape after their 3-1 victory in South Africa, but there remain a few doubts, not least the question of which of Jos Buttler or Ben Foakes is England’s preferred wicketkeeper.
Jonny Bairstow, who is reportedly set to tour Sri Lanka as a specialist batsman in a contentious move, is also in the mix, with the Asian country regarded as one of the hardest in the world to keep wicket in.
On the latest episode of the Wisden Cricket Weekly podcast, Wisden Cricket Monthly magazine editor and podcast host Jo Harman broached the topic with WCM editor-in-chief Phil Walker and Wisden writer James Wallace.
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) January 28, 2020
James Wallace: Foakes came in to Sri Lanka last year, played three Tests, got a ton, got Player of the Series there and they dropped him. He is known as the best gloveman in the country.
Jo Harman: Jim, you want Buttler there, although you haven’t quite worked out how to keep him in the side. Phil, what do we do with him?
Phil Walker: It’s the question of the day. Jos Buttler is 29. He’s played 41 Tests. He averages a tick under 32. He is a world superstar, a World Cup winner and one of the precious inner-sanctum of this England setup across all the formats. He is such a key part of the fabric of this team and I think still, undoubtedly, a player of Test match quality. To jettison him now with a bit of a shrug is too early.
I know it’s a bit vulgar to talk about the Ashes when it’s a year and a half away and I know it’s vulgar to talk about India when it’s a year away. But they are huge marquee series. Buttler, for me, in those two series, against top-quality spin and real pace, I want him in my team ahead of Foakes or Bairstow, personally. I think the keeping aspect is really relevant in Sri Lanka, and if we’re talking about horses for courses, you change the bowling attack depending on scenario. So maybe it’s not a disaster to change the keeping scenario for that specific job.
JH: I would agree. I don’t think it’s time to say ‘thanks Jos, just focus on white-ball cricket’, but I would have Foakes keeping wicket in Sri Lanka. What that does mean is that Foakes has the opportunity to nail down the spot. As much as we think Buttler might be the better option in India or Australia, he might not get that opportunity if Foakes comes in and does well enough. We might just have to say ‘sorry Jos, there’s not a spot for you’. He would be able to have no complaints against that because his record doesn’t stack up in Test cricket, and really his record doesn’t stack up in first-class cricket.
JW: I’m going out on a limb here, but [Ollie] Pope is pretty much the finished article. Could he move up to No.3 later, and Buttler bat at No.6?
Listen to the full discussion below. Also available on Spotify and the Podcast app.