England named four wicketkeepers in their 30-man training squad for their upcoming three-Test series against West Indies.
Jos Buttler is the man in possession having kept in England’s most recent series in South Africa but his recent record with the bat has raised questions over his spot in the side. Buttler faces stiff competition to retain his place in the form of Jonny Bairstow, who kept wicket for England as recently as last summer’s Ashes series and recently reiterated his desire to win the gloves back and Ben Foakes, a player widely regarded as the best pure wicketkeeper in the country. Gloucestershire’s James Bracey kept wicket during England Lions’ successful tour of Australia this winter and is also included in the squad but is unlikely to force his way into the XI by the first Test.
Jo Harman, Wisden Cricket Monthly magazine editor
There’s an argument to say that time should already have been called on Jos Buttler’s Test career but those tantalising glimpses – such as the quick-fire 70 at The Oval in the final match of last summer’s Ashes, or his vital contributions in Sri Lanka two years ago – make it hard to let go. To say that he’s just not up to the job is too simplistic – in 2018 only four batsmen in the world scored more Test runs, Buttler averaging 45 from 10 matches – but one fifty from his last 19 knocks clearly isn’t close to good enough.
Free from the distractions of white-ball cricket, I’d give him the gloves for the entirety of the Windies series, and then take stock. If he’s endured another series like the one he had in South Africa, then Ben Foakes can reclaim the spot he was unfortunate to lose in the first place.
Ben Gardner, wisden.com managing editor
Lest we forget, this time last year Jos Buttler was just about England’s best Test batsman. He had more runs than any other Englishman in the past 12 months, with more match-winning innings in there than Jonny Bairstow has played in his whole career. Since then, of course, the floor has fallen off, though if you’re feeling generous, you’d attribute it to an extended World Cup hangover and a need for some proper time off. The only way to test that theory is to give him one more go, after an enforced lay-off, and see if that’s done the trick. He was good enough for long enough to warrant extended rope, and if he still hasn’t cracked it come August, Ben Foakes will be ready and waiting.
Yas Rana, wisden.com head of content
I hope that this summer’s schedule forces England to be more open to more widespread format specialisation. England, quite rightly, have given Buttler and Bairstow – two of the world’s very best limited overs batsmen – every opportunity to succeed in the Test side but Bairstow’s recent record in England whites is wretched (he averaged less than 20 from 10 Tests in 2019) and Buttler’s isn’t much better (an average of 23.32 from 13 Tests in the same period).
Even if there wasn’t an obvious alternative in Foakes, it may prove prudent anyway to allow Buttler and Bairstow to keep their minds focused on England’s mission to become the first men’s side to simultaneously hold both ICC men’s World Cups. Buttler has now played 41 Tests and is yet to score a meaningful hundred and Bairstow has struggled to replicate his white-ball form in the Test arena ever since his promotion to the top of the ODI order. Now is surely the time for Foakes, the best keeper and most technically sound batsman of the three, to be afforded the chance to make the spot his own.
Phil Walker, Wisden Cricket Monthly editor-in-chief
Nothing says ‘cricket’s back’ like going out on a limb for Jos Buttler to bat at No.7 and catch a few balls. Ahead of 10 Test matches abroad against the big two, I’d want him in my side all day long. I want him counter-punching the spinners (his record against India is excellent), I want him walking out at the Gabba, on a quick one, with England five down, I want him to nail down a format I’m convinced he has the talent, technique and aptitude for. Before the World Cup he was going well, averaging 41 over 13 Tests.
After that, and this is key: everything went crazy – he missed the Ireland game, and was then thrown into an Ashes Test for his first red-ball match in six months. Ludicrous really, and little wonder that he took his time to get going. That said, he still finished the series strongly, making good runs in a big win at The Oval. And then on to that iffy winter: at times tentative, at times unlucky, and at times left high and dry. Is any of this conclusive? No. Is he hanging on to his place? Yes. Is he too precious a talent to dump before we know for sure? Absolutely.
James Wallace, Wisden Cricket Monthly staff writer
I’ve been enjoying watching a TV programme called The Repair Shop during lockdown, it’s comfort viewing, sure, and provides some much-needed light relief from the travails of New Jersey mobsters. There is something deeply satisfying about seeing a skilled craftsperson at work. A master in their field. I watched a bloke ‘fettle’ an old oil lamp and found myself with a lump in the throat. Last night I watched a lady weaving a willow baby basket. Transfixed, rigatoni growing colder with each perfect, precise movement of her dancing hands. She drops in beguiling words like ‘scalloms’ and ‘fitching’. The intricacy, the patience, the skill. It’s pretty obvious where I’m going with this?
Give the gloves to Ben Foakes. He is the best keeper in the land and deserves a proper run at Test level. He can bat too, centuries in Sri Lanka don’t come easy, but that’s a bonus for me, not part of the job spec. Let’s say you’ve got an antique pocket-watch that needs restoring, are you bothered if the guy who is the best in the country at it also does a bit of gardening on the side? Your main concern is that he does a thoroughly bloody good job on the old timepiece. Let the gardeners garden. Let the batter’s bat and let the best keeper, keep. If I was a ‘made man’ and this was New Jersey then heads would have been cracked by now, capiche Ed Smith?