England's Twenty20 wicketkeeper James Foster has promised to stay patient and wait for further opportunities after the disappointment of missing out on a place in England's training squad ahead of next month's Ashes.
Foster spent seven years in the international wilderness before his surprise call-up for England's recent World Twenty20 campaign, but the quality of his glovework caught the eye during an otherwise disappointing showing, in particular his quicksilver stumping of Yuvraj Singh at a critical moment of their must-win contest in the Super Eights stage at Lord's.
While there was never any prospect of Foster usurping Matt Prior in England's Ashes line-up, a place in the Lions squad to face Australia in their final warm-up at New Road from July 1-4 seemed a logical reward for his efforts. Instead, that spot has gone to Worcestershire's Steve Davies, with Prior's current Test understudy, Tim Ambrose, lining up for Warwickshire in a three-day warm-up game against England at Edgbaston.
But Foster, who slotted straight back into Championship action for his county on the morning after England's elimination from the World Twenty20, is phlegmatic about the snub. "It would have been nice to get into one of those squads of some nature, but it wasn't to be," he told Cricinfo. "To play against Australia, the best team in the world, would have been a lovely opportunity. But for now, for myself, it's just about putting in solid performances for Essex and carrying on pushing my case."
Foster's five appearances in the Twenty20 tournament were his first in England colours since the Ashes series of 2002-03, when he played the last of his 11 Tests in the penultimate match of the series at Melbourne.
"I was absolutely thrilled to be involved in such a high-profile event, it is something I've wanted for a long time," he said. "I was given that chance, and to play against the best players in the world was an amazing experience. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I wanted it to go on and on and on. But unfortunately we didn't quite get past West Indies."
Nevertheless, Foster made quite an impression during his time in the team. Though his late-order batting left something to be desired, with a disappointing tally of 37 runs from 32 balls, the speed and reliability of his glovework proved a vital foil for England's spinners, and reignited the debate about the place of specialist wicketkeepers in the modern game.
"Twenty20 is a format I've played a fair bit in the last few years," Foster said. "In 50-over and first-class cricket, you build up confidence and rhythm by taking a lot of balls, but as a wicketkeeper in Twenty20s, you don't take that many, so it can be quite tricky. You know, especially when the spinners are on, that the first time you take the ball, it may well be a chance. But that sort of pressure environment is something I enjoy being involved in."
One such pivotal moment, against India at Lord's, effectively sealed the match for England when, with the hard-hitting Yuvraj Singh looking ominous on 17 from eight deliveries, Graeme Swann tempted him out of his crease with a full-flighted delivery, and Foster whipped off the bails in a split-second.
"When I stand up to seam or spin, I'm always very alert, because I know a chance might come," Foster said. "It's about being switched on and training yourself to be ready for when the batsman misses the ball. As it was, Swanny bowled a beauty that lured Yuvraj into the drive, and he dragged the back foot out of the crease. It was just a matter of myself doing the rest - it was really down to Swanny for executing his skills."
As far as Foster is concerned, Twenty20 cricket is far more skilful than it is often given credit for. "When it came in domestically people thought it would be happy-go-lucky, with everybody just having a slog, but it's by no means like that at all," he said. "You have to put your skills to the test earlier than you might in 50-over cricket, but it is still all about cricket shots. There will be improvisation and premeditation at times, but it is about being still at the crease, knowing your areas, and knowing where you can score."
If any single factor is likely to have led to Foster being overlooked for the Lions squad, it is his batting, which proved unable to break the shackles effectively in the closing stages of England's innings in the World Twenty20. "I thought it went okay, but it would have been nice to score a few more boundaries," he said, "coming in in those last few overs.
"But the bowlers I faced were very consistent. They knew their areas, and it was difficult to get the ball away at times. In the last few overs the bowlers really came into their own with all their tricks - yorkers, bumpers, slower-ball bumpers. Batsmen will still have their moments and smack the odd boundary, but I think throughout the tournament the bowlers were very effective in the lower end of an innings."
For the time being, however, Foster is back with Essex, and once again awaiting his opportunity to impress in international cricket. "Personally, I've had seven years to improve my batting and wicketkeeping, but it's all down to taking your chance in a pressurised environment," he said. "If I get my chance at any stage in the future, I'll definitely back myself and hopefully put into practice what I've worked very hard on in the last few years."