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The bright spot of Foakes in England's disappointing day

by  Kamran  •  Last updated on 2021-02-15 07:44:18

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You know England have had a tough day when one of the assistant coaches is rolled out for the post-play media duties. When Paul Farbrace was assistant coach to Trevor Bayliss, a poor day was known amongst journalists as a Farby Day, because Farbrace would always be put up to explain, justify or apologise for what had transpired on the pitch. Sometimes, it all seemed very unfair on him.

Graham Thorpe, one of Chris Silverwood's assistants, spoke to the written media today. It was an indication that all had not gone to plan for England. Indeed after two days, this Test match has already gone. The pitch has been poor - "It's incredibly challenging," Thorpe said on Sunday (February 14). "That's all I'll say about the pitch. It was a very good toss to win." - but India have outplayed England with bat and ball too. Their batsmen have adjusted to conditions better and their spinners have outbowled England's. Unless there is freak monsoon rain which would make Noah dust off his ark, the series is as good as level.

In the performance of Ben Foakes, however, there has at least been a bright spot for England. Until the final session of day two, when he let some byes through and missed a tough stumping chance off Rohit Sharma, Foakes looked as if he was a fixture in England's Test team rather than making his first appearance for more than 24 months. He had kept flawlessly in India's first innings and then batted better than any other England player, lending some respectability to a score that would have been even more painful without him. It has been an excellent return to international cricket.

Foakes started the day with a quick stumping to remove Axar Patel and then picked up a couple of regulation catches from Olly Stone to finish India's innings off. Remarkably, Foakes conceded no byes in 95.5 overs of wicket-keeping on a surface with variable turn and bounce. It was a high-class display with the gloves. Then with the bat, coming in at 52 for 5, Foakes made an unbeaten 42 out of England's 134 all out. It was yet another reminder that for all his silky glovework, Foakes really is a very good batsman too. His Test average now reads 46.75.

He did have one thing in his favour that some of his top order teammates did not. The ball was 23.2 overs old when Foakes arrived at the crease and therefore had lost some of its hardness. He still had to contend with turn and bounce with Ravichandran Ashwin bowling beautifully but at least the turn and bounce was happening marginally slower. Batting just looked a trifle easier as England's innings wore on and Foakes and Ollie Pope mounted a short resurgence. Still difficult, but easier. The rest of Foakes's success, though, was down to his skill and tenacity.

There were a number of impressive aspects to his batting. The most important was how he picked up length quickly. "That puts you in position to score or trust your defence if you can't score," Thorpe said. Foakes was sometimes found in awkward positions when the ball misbehaved but generally, he was in the right place at the right time. That was all because of how he read the length of the ball, allowing him to move forward or back smartly.

Foakes is a tall man which gives him an advantage when playing forward because he can get to the pitch more often, smothering the spin. He did that to a couple of deliveries early on from Patel and Ashwin, hitting both down the ground for four. When it was shorter, he went quickly back, which opened up scoring opportunities both sides of the wicket. As Dan Lawrence found when he popped a catch up to short-leg the ball before lunch, getting stuck in no man's land, neither forward nor back, is fatal on this sort of surface. Foakes was rarely caught in that position.

He was also able to adjust quickly when he did not quite line things up right. At times against Ashwin, Foakes made a second movement with his front foot to adjust for the drift and dip that had accounted for Ben Stokes, making sure his bat could access the ball. At others, he used his hands to get himself out of trouble, either playing softly so the edges didn't carry to the close fielders or actually pushing harder at the ball to get it to hit the ground quickly, as if he was shooing a wasp away from a plate of food. He worked the ball into the leg-side particularly well off Ashwin.

It was noticeable too that Foakes, unlike Dom Sibley and Joe Root, eschewed the sweep shot early in his innings. With the ball turning and bouncing sharply, the sweep can bring added risk and Foakes only began to use the horizontal bat after he had spent a long time at the crease. Before that, he played with straight bat. Later, when he did sweep, he only did so to balls that were very full, reducing the chance that some extra bounce would find the top edge or glove. Foakes trusted his defence. He didn't feel the need to go for a release shot as Sibley had. He was content to bide his time.

"I was just trying to play for the ball that wasn't going to rag, try to play within my limits, and play the ball late basically," Foakes said after play. "Not get too far outside my bubble. Because the ball is taking the top of the surface. it's spitting quite a lot, so it was almost accepting if one hit me on the glove then it was fair enough. Otherwise, I just tried to stick to my game plan as if it was a normal sort of wicket."

In the end, Foakes ran out of partners. He was one of only four England players to reach double figures. Three dismissals to fast-bowlers, including Pope strangled down the leg-side, didn't help their cause. "The guys have plans but they didn't happen for us today," Thorpe said. "There were some good deliveries in there, some unfortunate dismissals, some good catches. We didn't get the partnerships going. It's going to be tough. We need something very, very special to happen. Somebody to do something amazing with the bat."

First, England need to get the nine remaining Indian wickets. The only blemish on Foakes' day was the missed chance of Sharma. The ball spun back sharply through the gate as the batsman advanced down the pitch which made it difficult but Foakes had a long time to see it too. Such are his high standards, he might be a little disappointed. Even so, the 27 year-old has had a fine recall to Test cricket, at least from a personal point of view.

England, of course, have had two days they would much rather forget. It is often during matches such as these, when the result is long gone, that coaches like Thorpe and Farbrace talk of looking for the positives. There haven't been too many of those for England but at least in Foakes' performance, the tourists have something to take from this game. Not that it does anything to change the outcome of the Test. England will head to Ahmedabad with the series all square.