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Pakistan v England 2022/23

Once again, Ben Foakes finds himself on the outside through no fault of his own – but there is logic to the decision

Ben Stokes (L), Brendon McCullum (C), Ben Foakes, (R)
Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 4 minute read

England have chosen to make one change to their XI from the first Test at Rawalpindi, with Mark Wood replacing the injured Liam Livingstone.

It’s a decision that fits with the current management style: bold, unorthodox, but underlined by a cold, hard logic that makes it the correct cricketing decision, as well as the fun one.

Why is it unorthodox? Don’t change a winning team is a famous mantra, and England’s win at Rawalpindi ranks among their greatest ever. But that doesn’t apply when half your squad has been waylaid by a stomach bug days before your previous game. That ruled out Ben Foakes, initially named in the XI, moments before the toss, and despite his recovery, he remains on the sidelines now.


England’s reasoning is that six batters is quite enough on these flat Pakistan wickets, and they need all the bowling options they can get. Five bowlers were enough at Rawalpindi, but with Liam Livingstone injured and ruled out of the tour during the game, the addition of Mark Wood gives the attack a complete look. None of the bowlers deserves to be left out: Will Jacks claimed six wickets, Jack Leach is the lead spinner, and Ollie Robinson and James Anderson were irresistible in the final innings. England will want two spinners to get through the donkey work, and the extra dimension Wood adds could prove invaluable.

That means, to get Foakes back in, England would have had to leave out a batter. But four of the top six made centuries in the first Test, while the other two are Ben Stokes (the captain) and Joe Root (their greatest batter). Before the series, there was the option of leaving out Harry Brook, who had played just one Test as an injury replacement, in order to fit in five bowlers, with Jacks capable of batting at No.6. But given his stellar display – Brook had a claim to the Player of the Match award after hitting 240 runs off 181 balls during the game – he has become undroppable. So leaving Foakes out is the only remaining option.

That doesn’t mean the decision is without risk. Very few have managed to marry the twin tasks of batting in the top-order and keeping wicket with sustained success, but that is the burden being placed on Ollie Pope, who has only just made the No.3 slot his own. Stokes has raised the possibility of Ben Duckett keeping if Pope is drained by his efforts with the bat. Pope also had an up-and-down Test match with the gloves at Rawalpindi, dropping a catch on the third morning and failing to go for a chance on the final evening that flew between him and Root at first slip. But he also took two good snaffles, one standing up to the stumps off a thick edge and one diving down the leg side.

With wickets hard to come by, England may rue the absence of Foakes’ svelte gauntlets behind the sticks. The story of an exceptional wicketkeeper being left out by England for the sake of the balance of the side is a familiar one. The value of a proper gloveman can be hard to quantify, and therefore easy to disregard. But in Pakistan, a missed chance can easily cost you 100 runs.

There is also the human side of this, with Foakes’ England career seeing him pushed in and out of the side, generally through little fault of his own. In 2019, Foakes was dropped two Tests after being Player of the Series in Sri Lanka, with England realising none of Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Root or Moeen Ali could sustainably bat at No.3, leaving no room for the Surrey keeper. He remained on the outer until England’s tour of the subcontinent in 2021, but hopes of a home Test debut were ended by a freak injury. A century against South Africa this summer looked to have cemented his place. Two games later, he is once again on the fringes with another disappointment to swallow.

This should only be a temporary measure, with the unique challenges of Test cricket in Pakistan necessitating unusual team composition; for England’s tour of New Zealand, he should slot straight back in, although the spectre of Bairstow looms. What remains to be seen is how Foakes responds to the decision. It will be a test of Stokes and Brendon McCullum’s man-management skills, which have hitherto been exemplary. This brave new era has been founded on removing the fear of failure and encouraging players to play unencumbered by doubt and indecision. How that works when someone suddenly realises their spot is in danger, and that they are likely to be the first player out when a change does need to be made is as yet unanswered.

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