County news August 14, 2014

Surrey tempt Foakes from Essex

Surrey have signed Ben Foakes from Essex in the first major transfer in county cricket's late-season shuffle.

Foakes, a 21-year-old wicketkeeper batsman, has long been on the radar of the England selectors and has already represented the Lions side.

But, frustrated by his lack of first-team opportunities at Essex, where James Foster remains first-choice keeper and is showing no signs of decline at 33, he has chosen to forge his career elsewhere.

Surrey insist that Gary Wilson, the current keeper and captain, remains a key part of their plans. Wilson has won many plaudits since assuming the captaincy role vacated when Graeme Smith succumbed to a long-standing knee injury in early season and returned to South Africa.

Surrey lie in second place in Division 2 of the LV= Championship, although they have played one more game than their rivals, Essex among them, and have also qualified for Finals Day in the NatWest t20 Blast.

But Wilson is expected to have growing commitments with Ireland over the next couple of years, leaving Surrey anxious to strengthen their resources.

Foakes' signing does raise questions over the future of Steven Davies, the former England keeper, who caused widespread surprise by telling Surrey he wanted a break from keeping earlier this season so he could concentrate on improving his batting form.

It continued a troubled period for Davies, who also suffered from depression in 2012 after the death of Tom Maynard brought about one of the most troubled periods in Surrey's history.

He has since cut a somewhat peripheral figure at the club. It may well prove hard for him to justify his large salary as the club continue to rebuild the squad.

Regarded as England's deputy to Matt Prior as late as June 2012, when he was called into the squad as cover when Matt Prior had an ear infection, he has since been supplanted by Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow and has international prospects have dramatically receded.

Foakes struck a career-best 132 against Gloucestershire at Bristol in April, but he has scraped barely 200 runs in his other 15 innings and has played largely Second XI cricket since mid-July, quickening the impression that a parting of the ways was inevitable.

Essex's head coach Paul Grayson said, "We have been lucky enough at Essex to have had a line of top class wicket-keeper batsmen over the past few years and with James Foster continuing to perform at the highest level as England's best wicket-keeper, Ben has found his keeping options limited.

"We wanted Ben to stay at the club, especially as he is one of our own who we have nurtured through our academy, but we totally understand the reasons why he wants to leave and we wish him all the best."

Foakes is the latest unfulfilled talent to leave Essex in search of greater opportunities. Adam Wheater, another keeper, has made a good impression at Hampshire and and Varun Chopra, the opening batsman, has gained a reputation as one of the county game's most reliable opening batsmen at Warwickshire.

Essex face a fight to retain the service of fast bowler Tymal Mills, whose raw pace has also attracted England's attention, but who has rarely illustrated his promise with matchwinning performances.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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