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A Keeping conundrum

by Justin Rourke

Cricket is full of ironies, one of those at this time is James Bracey making his test debut as wicket keeper in tomorrow’s first test. This is no slight on Bracey, he is a very talented young man and a serious addition to England’s options.  I have every confidence that he will go well, I am genuinely looking forward to seeing him in action with the bat and the gloves.

For clarity Bracey was always in my team for this test, but I had foreseen him as an excellent addition to a top 3 that is far from cemented. He has floated seamlessly between 1,2 and 3 in first class cricket and he a very good defensive game. I see Bracey and Tom Abell as the two players best placed to put pressure on the current top 3.

Closer inspection of the wicketkeeping situation does raise some question marks. Most agreed at the end of 2019 that Bairstow needed a rest from test cricket, very few saw Buttler as the option to replace him. Popular opinion would have rewarded the impressive Foakes but England travelled with no reserve and Ollie Pope was forced into keeping.

Since then Buttler regained the gloves and steadily improved his keeping and batting. As we now know he was rested one test into a 4 match series against the WTC finalists in a country he knows better than most (in a cricketing sense). Foakes stepped in and Bairstow also found his way back in as a specialist batsman. A confusing situation that is best blamed on Ed Smith (although I suspect Gilo had a role to play).

So is it fair to ask how we end up in a situation 2 days before the 1st Test of the summer with a top 3 batting prospect keeping and batting at no7 on debut and a reserve keeper in the test squad who has played little first class cricket, and kept in even less over the last 2-3 years?

Foakes injury is very unfortunate, not least for Ben. It is a cruel blow to an excellent cricketer. The Buttler & Bairstow unavailability is for me a bone of contention. I understand the difficulty of balancing IPL versus test cricket but playing tests for your country requires some sacrifice.

Like Pope back in New Zealand, Bracey is being asked to do a job for which he was not originally selected. Pope also had this early in his career when pushed up to no4, Zak Crawley has been up and down the order too (I think he’s actually forgotten he is an opener) and then Dan Lawrence too was picked at 3.

Crawley, Bracey, Pope and Lawrence may all go on to be excellent test match batsmen, they may not, but give them the best chance by picking them in the correct role. … even if that means making hard decisions such as leaving out one of Pope and Lawrence when Root and Stokes are both playing.

Dom Bess, Matty Parkinson and Jofra Archer were all treated badly for different reasons over the winter, we really must look after our talent!


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