Benjamin Thomas Foakes
February 15, 1993, Colchester, Essex
Right hand bat
A wicketkeeper first and a batsman second, Ben Foakes' excellence behind the stumps for Surrey quickly earned him the reputation as the best gloveman in the country after he cemented his spot in their side in 2016. That form and an injury to Jonny Bairstow earned him a Test debut in Sri Lanka in 2018-19, and he proved that he could bat too with a classy hundred on debut in Galle, while his keeping to the spinners was almost faultless as England won 3-0.
But Bairstow was soon back as the first-choice keeper, and even after he was dropped following an underwhelming run with the bat, a disappointing county campaign cost Foakes a spot on England's winter tour to New Zealand, with Jos Buttler preferred. He admitted that he had stopped enjoying the game in 2019, feeling like he was running on empty, and it took a first winter off since he was 17 for him to re-gain that spark. By the spring, he was back on tour, selected as the back-up wicketkeeper for England's tour of Sri Lanka in 2020.
Foakes, the son of the former football referee Peter Foakes, who encouraged his interest in sport, but died suddenly when his son was 13, emerged as a promising wicketkeeper-batsman at Essex, earmarked from an early age as an England prospect, but due to the longevity of James Foster, another one-time prodigy, he left to seek further opportunities with Surrey at the end of 2014. It was a wise choice. He realised that he found it hard to motivate himself when he played for Essex as a batsman, but the moment he got the chance to work on his wicketkeeping with Bruce French in England age-group sides his enthusiasm was unbounded.
A regular at youth level for his country, Foakes was England's leading run-scorer at the 2012 U-19 World Cup, having made 93 on Championship debut earlier in the summer. Picked for the Lions' limited-overs tour of Australia in 2012-13 before making his List A debut, Foakes was Bairstow's understudy in Sri Lanka the following winter - a role he was used to filling at Essex, with Foster still going strong. He made his maiden first-class and Championship centuries during the 2013 season and, in a mark of England's future planning, was invited to train with the squad and act as 12th man for the first Ashes Test of the summer at Trent Bridge. At 19, with only five first-class matches for Essex, he was selected for the England Lions' tour of Australia at the start of 2013. The tour proved almost as disastrous as the senior tour Down Under later that year, and yet Foakes won a significant admirer: Andy Flower, who was en route to New Zealand for England's series there.
It was another season before Foakes got the gloves on a full-time basis at Surrey, but eventually he ousted Steve Davies, leaving Davies confused as to the exact nature of his ambitions: he left for Somerset at the end of 2016. Gary Wilson, another regular Surrey wicketkeeper, moved to Derbyshire. Foakes averaged 44 in the Championship, including a career-best 141 not out against Hampshire in July to turn Surrey's season. He could be an attritional batsman, as his 59 not out from 235 balls against Middlesex in May of that year testified, but he topped the Royal London Cup averages while scoring at better than a run a ball, nothing better than his beautifully-judged 90 against Yorkshire in the semi-final at Headingley.
The following year, he averaged top side of 40 in the Championship but unexpectedly his return in the 50-over competition was even higher as he averaged 96.40, passing 50 in six out of 10 knocks and maintaining a rate of better than a run a ball. Competition among England's wicketkeepers was high, but Foakes edged out Buttler as an Ashes tour deputy, months after Alec Stewart - his county coach and not a man for wild pronouncements - had proposed him as the best wicketkeeper in the world.
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