Foakes is 'best wicketkeeper in world' - Stewart

Ben Foakes is the "best wicketkeeper in the world", according to his director of cricket at Surrey, Alec Stewart

Ben Foakes is the "best wicketkeeper in the world", according to his director of cricket at Surrey, Alec Stewart, who believes he has all the necessary attributes to fight for an England Test place this summer, despite the success achieved by England's current incumbent, Jonny Bairstow.
Foakes, 24, is about to begin his third season at Surrey, having moved on from his native Essex at the end of the 2014 season, where he had struggled - understandably - to dislodge the club's veteran gloveman, and then-captain, James Foster.
Now, however, he is flourishing in all formats, having racked up 836 runs at 44.00 in last season's County Championship, in addition to 48 dismissals behind the stumps. Stewart, who played 82 of his 133 Test matches as England's wicketkeeper, is confident that Foakes has got the game to go all the way in his own career.
"I've got to be careful not to be biased when it comes to Foakesy, because I reckon he's the best wicketkeeper in the world," Stewart said during Surrey's media day at Kia Oval.
"When he's batting, he's Test-match quality, but he's got a very good cricketer ahead of him in Jonny Bairstow. So while Jonny is doing as well as he's doing - and Jos Buttler at the moment is his No. 2 - he's got to fight his way, but if you asked me purely on glovework, he's the best there is."
Ostensibly, Bairstow is under no pressure whatsoever for his role, having enjoyed a formidable year in 2016. He amassed a total of 1470 Test runs in 17 matches - the most ever made by a wicketkeeper in a calendar year - and set another world record by claiming 70 dismissals.
Nevertheless, doubts still persist about the quality of Bairstow's glovework, not to mention the wisdom of burdening him with the duty when he merits inclusion in the Test team on batting form alone.
Foakes, meanwhile, spent the winter in Sri Lanka with the England Lions, where he made ten dismissals in the hard-fought second unofficial Test in Dambulla, before keeping wicket for the South v the North in the three-match series in Abu Dhabi. He now has a long lead-in to the South Africa series in July, during which time he can make his case for higher honours.
"Speak to Andy Flower and the Lions coaches, they said he was outstanding [in Sri Lanka] and going from strength to strength. But he knows it's his job to keep developing, plus there's Bairstow and Buttler in the way," Stewart said.
"Wicketkeepers have to be allrounders these days, and Foakesy fits into that, he could bat anywhere in the top seven, but for wicketkeeping [alone], he's as good as there is."
The purity of one's glovework, however, has long since ceased to be a factor in the selection of wicketkeepers, as Stewart himself knows from his playing days with Surrey and England. Through determined hard work, he turned himself into a top-class performer whose eventual tally of 241 dismissals was, at the time, second only to the great Alan Knott among England keepers. But, at no stage did he or anyone else claim that his skills were on a par with those of Knott, or indeed, Gloucestershire's Jack Russell, the man whose career was most impacted by Stewart's multi-tasking.
"He's got the potential to get up to the level of Russell and Knott," Stewart said of Foakes. "When I say he's the best in the world, I mean I haven't seen any better. I'm not saying he's in Jack's class or Alan Knott's class, or Ian Healy's class. But of those currently playing, of what I've seen, I haven't seen anyone better."
Gareth Batty, Surrey's captain and senior spinner, concurred with Stewart's assessment. "He commands the space around the stumps, and that includes in front of them," he said. "A couple of years ago, he got a stumping off me that was more of a run-out.
"He's just very alert. For a tallish guy, he's quick around the scraps on the floor, and that's a secondary thing to the out-and-out glovework. I'm not going to get too carried away as he could miss a stumping first game, but he is very, very, very good."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket