Ben Foakes set to retain gloves despite Jonny Bairstow’s return to training

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England declined to name their team for the second Test on Monday but, for anyone watching training, the answers were there.
While Ben Foakes practised his keeping, for example, Jonny Bairstow practised his catching in the outfield. And, along from Foakes in the cordon, was Jos Buttler at third slip.
It’s hard to reach any conclusion other than Foakes will retain the gloves for Kandy. And, after that debut in Galle, anything else would be a bit silly, really.
England declined to say who would bat at No. 3, either. But the evidence suggests that it will be Buttler. While the other serious candidate – Ben Stokes – may have a large bowling workload, Buttler is now in the team as a specialist batsman. Moeen Ali and Stokes are therefore likely to bat at No. 5 and No. 6.
So, is this a ‘horses for courses’ choice? Or is it reflective of England’s enduring inability to find a replacement for Jonathan Trott at his best?
A bit of both probably. Only a few months ago, Buttler was recalled to the team with a specific brief to bat with freedom at No. 7. He has been promoted now at least as much due to the failures of other candidates – a list that could include Moeen, Joe Root and, at a push Joe Denly (who was pencilled in for the role but failed a couple of times in the warm-up games) – as any particular aptitude he has shown for a role in the top-order. He may, after all, have to curb that freedom for which he is celebrated just a little if he comes in against a swinging new ball.
Having said that, Buttler does appear to have settled into his Test career (he has scored a century and two half-centuries in his last four Tests) and is a fine player of spin. There’s no reason he could not make the move work for the rest of the winter. Whether it is a ploy that could be used in the Ashes seems somewhat more debatable.
There is a sensitive dynamic here, though. Having played much of his career as an all-rounder, Buttler has always had a certain freedom to his game. A sense that, if he fails in one discipline, he can compensate in the other. And, as a result, a sense of relaxation in both. Knowing he is no longer likely to keep – he may now be third choice when everyone is fit on this tour – and that he is expected to bat a little more responsibly at No. 3 does present something of a new challenge to him. And it would be a shame to curb the qualities for which he was selected.
Much the same could be said of Bairstow. He looked fit in training. But, partially because he only refereed in the football warm-ups, the suspicion remains that his ankle may not be fully healed and that he may not be risked this week. That might also avoid a selection headache.
But Bairstow requires a bit of support right now. He is a fine player, especially with the bat, and has worked exceptionally hard to improve out of all recognition as a keeper. But he also appears to be slightly more sensitive than some. He was discombobulated in the English summer when there was talk of him losing the gloves and he was discombobulated even more by talk of playing him out of position. On both occasions, the talk seemed a bit unnecessary.
It’s all very well saying – as Trevor Bayliss did quite reasonably a day or two ago – that players have to accept the competition that comes with the territory. And few could doubt that Foakes is simply better at keeping than either Buttler or Bairstow. But most players (people, even) perform at their best when they feel valued, supported and secure. Bairstow has been a very fine player for England for a few years now; it would be a shame if his effectiveness were to be compromised by any sense that he feels threatened or insecure now.