“Not only was his defence solid – he resisted the urge to attack balls towards the stumps – his uncomplicated brand of cricket even belied his international exposure”
England’s reliance on the lower-middle order and the continued failure of their senior pros was once again the highlight in the first innings of the first Test against Sri Lanka in the Emerald Isles, as England slumped to 103 for 5, before being rescued by Surrey mates Ben Foakes – on debut – and 20-year-old Sam Curran, who had won the Man of the Series award in the recently-concluded Tests against India.
All eyes were on the opening pair of Rory Burns and Keaton Jennings after the departure of Alastair Cook, but the failure of the former – not surprising in the least, considering England’s woes at the top – who was dismissed to a short of a length delivery that should have been left alone, emphasized how the unit has been further pushed into the ditch with the retirement of their senior pro. The ploy to consider Moeen Ali as a specialized batsman, despite him averaging 32.27 with the bat in 89 innings and push him to bat at number 3 proved a strange move once again as he was bowled off a perfect length delivery that tore open the already wide gap to uproot the off-stump. With Joe Root falling victim to an unnecessary aggressive approach by stepping out in a hurry to make room to smash the ball when the situation demanded a composed mindset – he struck 5 fours in his knock of 35 – the talks of England playing with “courage” with reduced risks before the game began evaporated into thin air.
It then needed a youngster, who has been touring Sri Lanka since 2011 to raise his hand and guide his team to safety.
— Michael Wood (@michael_wood793) November 7, 2018
Part of the team for the touring Ashes squad last year, Foakes set the example of how a player should go about in alien conditions, playing with a calm assurance and controlled aggression. Instead of upping the ante with risky shots, he decided to bide away time, walking in to bat when the top five had returned to the dressing room with the score reading just 103. He scored only 7 runs in his first 40 balls, which was in stark contrast to the team’s approach till then, with England taking only 23 overs to get to 100.
England’s top four have averaged only 33.77 in the last twenty-four months and often the responsibility has gone to the lower-middle order players to take their team to safety. The cricketers from positions 5-7 have fared slightly better in this interim, scoring at an average of almost 35, with players like Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow coming up with crucial knocks under pressure to convert the lazed technique of the top-order, which has often pushed the team to a precarious position.
After the departure of Buttler in the first innings, Curran got together with Foakes to slowly but steadily wear out the bowlers, scoring 92 runs in 33.2 overs. Foakes, in particular, impressed by playing straight, playing each delivery on its merit and not looking to go for shots in each over. He scored just 6 fours in his 68-overstay on Day 1, as against the top-order’s ten fours in ten overs, to finally get the game within grasp. Not only was his defence solid – he resisted the urge to attack balls towards the stumps – his uncomplicated brand of cricket even belied his international exposure.
💯 WHAT A MOMENT! 💯
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) November 7, 2018
Over the last two years, English cricketers below the age of 25 like Tom Curran, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Billings and now Foakes have impressed across all formats, which only shows how the side is shifting gears towards the youth. It also highlights the strong domestic structure that is in place in England.
Not only has Foakes been termed as the best keeper in the world by the local coaches, the fact that he was shortlisted as a future international potential by Trevor Bayliss, ensured that he was constantly in the mix, touring countries either with the Lions or the Colts. With his arrival and a hundred on debut, England will be in a dilemma going forward – do they play Bairstow, who was ruled out from the game or continue keeping with Foakes, but considering the innumerable issues with the top-order batting, this dilemma will be welcome news for the side.