BY MARCUS HOOK
This weekend sees Surrey return to red-ball action, which Ben Foakes describes as his main love. Not that you would know it, given his form with the bat in the Royal London One-Day Cup in the last 12 months.
The 25-year-old wicketkeeper has picked up where he left off last season – averaging over 50 in both the County Championship and white-ball cricket – something he puts down to hours of watching Australia’s Steve Smith bat, both on video as well as from the England dressing room during last winter’s Ashes Test series.
Foakes was England’s reserve wicketkeeper down under, but, unfortunately was not called upon.
“Results-wise it wasn’t ideal, but the Ashes experience was awesome,” said the former Essex man.
“Even though I had been to Australia before, about four or five times, it was the first time I had flown business class, which I could get used to. But that’s why you play the game – to play for England; that’s always been my ambition.”
Such was his form just prior to England’s recent Test series with Pakistan, Foakes was rumoured to be in the selectors’ thinking. Instead they went with making Jos Buttler the next cab on the rank should anything happen to prevent Jonny Bairstow keeping wicket.
“I got a phone call from Ed Smith before the start of the England-Pakistan series to say well done with the season so far, but, unfortunately, you’re not in the squad,” explained Foakes.
“In terms of selection you never really know, so it’s a question of trying to score as many runs as possible and take as many catches as possible and seeing what happens.”
Surrey are back into County Championship duty tomorrow as they face Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton.
The South Londoners are third in the Division One table, with two victories from their four matches.
Foakes said: “My focus is and always has been red-ball cricket, and I feel good with the bat. I made a couple of changes to my technique over the winter, mainly with my trigger movement.
“I used to put a lot of weight on my front foot – my strength was on the leg side and on my front foot. But I found with so much weight on my front foot there was nowhere to go if the ball was nipping around.
“But after watching Steve Smith, the way he plants his back foot early, he’s in a good position for the short ball. I looked at that and have found it helps.
“I found I was effective at scoring runs, but was telling myself I couldn’t cover drive or cut the ball. I was basically waiting until the ball was straight, so I could clip it. But the more people bowl to you, eventually they work you out, so you have to come up with different ways of batting and of evolving your game.”
Surrey’s victory over a Yorkshire side that featured Joe Root and Bairstow put down a marker that they’re worth keeping an eye on in terms of challenging for the title this year.
“That was a very good win because we went down a different route to preparing a good wicket that spins,” said Foakes. “The ball nipped around a hell of a lot during that game. It all came down to Ollie Pope and Rikki Clarke sticking in there on the first day and giving us a chance, because we could have been rolled for 150 very easily.
“We’ve got a good all-round bowling group and, obviously, some very good youngsters, making their way and learning the game, but still doing very well. And now we’ve got Morne Morkel to come in.
“Take it from me, he’s rapid still. He’s very quick. He bounces it and he’s one of the better bowlers in the world, without a doubt. In the championship, with the Dukes ball in hand, he’ll do some pretty awesome stuff for us.
“Hampshire are a good team. They’ve got Dale Steyn coming over, so that will make it a good challenge. But as long as we are on it and focused and get another win there it will be awesome in terms of setting us up.”
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