England agonised over dropping Ben Foakes for Jonny Bairstow – Rob Key
England “agonised” about dropping Ben Foakes for next month’s one-off Test against Ireland before concluding the wicketkeeper giving way for the returning Jonny Bairstow was the only logical option.
Despite being regarded as one of the world’s best glovemen and averaging a respectable 38.9 with the bat in nine Tests under Ben Stokes’ leadership, Foakes has been jettisoned in favour of Bairstow in a 15-strong squad for the Lord’s contest that serves as England’s only tune-up ahead of the Ashes series.
Bairstow’s six hundreds in 2022, before breaking his leg in three places in August, meant he was a shoo-in to reclaim his spot but how England would accommodate the Yorkshireman was left open to debate.
His county colleague Harry Brook registered four centuries over the winter, making the number five spot his own, after replacing Bairstow, while there was a suggestion of Stokes opening to free up a middle-order space.
But Rob Key insisted any funky rejig of the batting order was never on the cards and the irresistible form of Bairstow, who has kept twice for Yorkshire this season and in 49 of his 89 Tests, under Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum meant he was given the nod over Foakes.
“It is something we agonised over for quite some time,” said Key, the England and Wales Cricket Board director of men’s cricket.
“You’ve got two very good cricketers: Ben Foakes who has just done absolutely everything that has been asked of him and you’ve also got Jonny Bairstow who was one of the best batsmen in the world last year.
“It’s then how do you fit them both in? We couldn’t find a way to do that so we’ve ended up with Jonny keeping and batting at number seven.
“We didn’t think about square pegs in round holes. As hard as it is on Ben Foakes, you look at the potential line-up and you think it looks a very, very good side with Jonny in there.”
With a month to go until the start of the Ashes there remain concerns over Stokes’ longstanding left knee injury while Stephen Fleming, his head coach at Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League, said recently the all-rounder’s ability to bowl remains “a bit of a challenge”.
Ollie Pope’s unveiling as vice-captain on Tuesday provided a hint of intrigue ahead of the visit of Ireland from June 1-4, having stood in for Stokes in England’s warm-up matches over the winter.
However, Key does not expect Pope to fulfil captaincy duties at the home of cricket and is, for now, happy that Stokes will be able to perform to his usual standard ahead of a bumper summer.
“At the moment I have no concerns about that,” said Key of Stokes, who has not featured in the IPL since early April.
“I think Ben’s actually been probably getting more rest than he would have done had he been doing anything else.
“Even though he’s out at the IPL, every time I speak to him and communicate in whatever way, all he’s thinking about really is the Ashes.
“Sometimes you can never be 100 per cent sure what Stokesy does. His instincts are generally very good on those things but at this point in time, I don’t see him (missing the Ireland Test).”
As expected, James Anderson keeps his place in the squad despite suffering a mild strain to his right groin last week. England will continue to monitor Anderson and a decision about whether to field their record wicket-taker in the summer’s curtain-raiser will be made nearer to the time.
“I’ve had the odd WhatsApp with Jimmy – he’s not concerned which is a good thing really because we want to see Jimmy Anderson for as much as we can,” added Key.
England have been hit with further injuries to Jofra Archer and Olly Stone, leaving Mark Wood as their only express pace option but fellow fast bowler Chris Woakes, who has taken 94 wickets at 22.63 in home conditions and 27 at 11.33 at Lord’s, is brought back in for the first time since March last year.
Stuart Broad, Ollie Robinson and the recalled Matthew Potts provide the other specialist seam options, with Jack Leach as the frontline spinner. Dan Lawrence provides batting cover.
England men’s Test squad to face Ireland at Lord’s from June 1-4: B Stokes (captain), J Anderson, J Bairstow, S Broad, H Brook, Z Crawley, B Duckett, D Lawrence, J Leach, O Pope, M Potts, O Robinson, J Root, C Woakes, M Wood.