Jonny Bairstow’s looming return not troubling Ben Foakes behind the stumps

Ben Foakes is not worrying about his place in the England team (Mike Egerton/PA) (PA Wire)
Ben Foakes is not worrying about his place in the England team (Mike Egerton/PA) (PA Wire)

Ben Foakes is not allowing the prospect of Jonny Bairstow’s return to unsettle him as he continues to make his case as England’s safe pair of hands.

After racking up a 10th Test win from 11 in last week’s day/night clash against New Zealand in Mount Maunganui, the only real headaches captain Ben Stokes has involve deciding who makes the cut when everybody is fit and available.

The bowling stocks are already fit to bursting as the Ashes hovers into view, with the likes of Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Chris Woakes all vying to join the current squad, but an even thornier decision awaits in the top seven.

Bairstow is effectively guaranteed a place when he recovers from the badly broken leg he suffered at the end of a career-best summer in 2022, but his comeback is unlikely to come at the expense of Harry Brook, who has been a revelation since stepping in at number five and already looks a permanent fixture.

With that in mind, one route back for Bairstow would see him revert to wicketkeeping – as he has done in 49 of his 89 England caps – with Foakes as collateral damage.

And while Stokes would be reluctant to leave out someone he has repeatedly labelled the best gloveman in the world, Foakes sat out twice in Pakistan before Christmas to help balance the side. Foakes is aware of the debate, but has little interest in second-guessing the outcome.

“Naturally you’re going to think about things but at the stage I’m at there’s no point stressing over it,” he said as England arrived in Wellington for Friday’s decisive second Test.

“I’m having some good form in my career and I’m just trying to enjoy that rather than stressing about what else might happen.

“In international cricket you will always go through certain phases. There have been so many times in my career when I’ve thought ‘oh that’s going to happen, that’s going to happen’ and it never has so there’s no point in worrying about it.

I don’t think it’s smart for me to go and try to be Ben Stokes or Harry Brook. I’m not, as you’d say, ‘Bazball’.

“My England journey has been a bit of a rollercoaster from day one and I’ve had a lot of times out of the team where I’ve thought ‘how do I get back in?’ and things like that but I guess thinking about those things doesn’t help my game at all.”

For now, Foakes is well served by letting his performances do the talking.

In Mount Maunganui he was typically tidy behind the stumps, even standing up to James Anderson and Stuart Broad as they nipped the pink Kookaburra around. But most striking was his calmness at the crease, particularly in making a controlled 51 in an otherwise explosive batting display on the third day.

While his top order team-mates were blazing away in what occasionally looked like a six-hitting competition, he stayed in his lane and helped shepherd the innings through to the final session when they could bowl at New Zealand under lights.

Foakes admits he does not possess the attacking range to go all in on England’s super-aggressive credo, but is embracing the value of his own.

“I don’t think it’s smart for me to go and try to be Ben Stokes or Harry Brook. I’m not, as you’d say, ‘Bazball’,” he said, co-opting the shorthand for head coach Brendon McCullum’s preferred style.

“I can’t do what a lot of these guys do. If I did that from ball one I’d just get out so it doesn’t make sense for me to try. I think almost steadying it amongst the carnage can work sometimes. In bridging the gap between our explosive starts and then batting with the tail, I’ve got to bat a different way.

“It’s about staying true to myself. Obviously in the nets I’m working on expanding my game and things like that but still kind of revolving around my core game. You do have a look up at the scoreboard at your strike-rate, you want to keep it above 50, but it’s a strength of mine to play slightly more normal cricket.”