Understated Foakes a world-class understudy

Shaun Marsh is stumped by Surrey's Ben Foakes Getty Images

If Alec Stewart is correct, England have packed the best wicketkeeper in the world among their Ashes luggage, almost as you would take a spare toothbrush on holiday.

Ben Foakes, uncapped and on his first senior tour, travels to Australia as Jonny Bairstow's deputy, though such is the nature of England expeditions Down Under, it would not be entirely surprising if he somehow ended the series batting in the middle order: as well as his ability with the gloves, Foakes is a batsman good enough to average more than 40 in first-class cricket.

His rise has perhaps taken longer than some expected, having been selected for England Lions as a 19-year-old, but two seasons of immaculate glovework and crisp run-scoring at Surrey have pushed him into the role of Test understudy ahead of Jos Buttler, who keeps in the white-ball formats.

"It has taken a couple of weeks to sink in," Foakes said, speaking in the Long Room at Lord's, undaunted at being first into the fray for England's departure press conference. "Jonny is obviously world class, I can't go out there expecting to replace him. I am just trying to prepare to play the first game if needed.

"When I first came to Surrey I wasn't keeping regularly and at Essex I was behind James Foster - I had to make a decision to move to Surrey and the last couple of years I have been able to keep regularly, and my main focus was on red-ball cricket. To be able to be here now shows the progress I've made."

While Bairstow has bristled at the idea of relinquishing the gloves, England may eventually conclude that Foakes is wasted as a luxury item. If the top five continues to misfire, and with Ben Stokes currently out of consideration for his usual role at No. 6, the temptation to bat Bairstow higher and bring in Foakes will grow.

It is an area in which England can contrast themselves favourably with Australia, who have several names in the frame to push the incumbent, Matthew Wade, but little certainty as to who will take the gloves in Brisbane and beyond.

Foakes is a quietly assured operator, happy to let his game do the talking. His father, former Premier League referee Peter, died of a heart attack when he was 13 - he has the date tattooed on his wrist - but Ben emerged from that "difficult time" to break into Essex's first team while still a teenager. Foster's excellence blocked his path at Chelmsford but he saw off the competition at Surrey, who at one stage could choose between Foakes, Steven Davies, Gary Wilson and Kumar Sangakkara.

He was likened to an "artist" for his keeping with the Lions in Sri Lanka earlier this year, by former England coach and Zimbabwe wicketkeeper Andy Flower. Stewart's praise then took things up a notch. "I saw it on Facebook and obviously had a few Indian fans jibing and bringing up MS Dhoni," Foakes said. "I think to hear that is lovely."

He has plenty of experience of Australia, having played there in an Under-19 World Cup and on the 2012-13 Lions tour - from which, coincidentally, Stokes was sent home for one too many nights out - as well as spending some time with Adelaide University.

Given the England team that finished the 2013-14 Ashes featured five changes from the one that started the series, it's a reasonable bet that Australia could also be the place where Foakes makes his international debut.

"I think it is an amazing place to play cricket, the whole package out there is the best experience of cricket I have had," Foakes said. "You get a bit of grief that is quite a natural sort of mentality - I don't look at that stuff too much, it's about trying to represent my country and do everything I can for England.

"I think our chances are very good - we have world-class performers with a lot of experience, which obviously makes a real difference to any side, and I think it is about how the less-experienced guys are able to support them and lift our games and learn off them."

The wisdom of Foakes' inclusion may soon become apparent. As the Chris Evans TV show of the 90s once instructed: don't forget your toothbrush.