Ben Foakes targets top-six runs for Surrey despite England tail dilemma

England

Ben Foakes will continue to bat in the top six for Surrey in the early stages of the County Championship season, despite conceding that he is learning on the job while batting at No. 7 in England’s Test team.

Twenty-five Tests into his England career, Foakes has batted exclusively at No. 7 or 8 and has often struggled to adjust to batting alongside tailenders. He made 205 runs in 10 innings during their recent 4-1 series defeat in India, with a top score of 47, during which time his career average dropped below 30.

“I felt like I kept pretty well; my keeping felt good,” Foakes said, reflecting on his performances in India. “To start off, I didn’t feel amazing with the bat and then, yeah, disappointed in a couple of innings that I didn’t kick on. Again, that role of batting lower down, batting with the tail – the more I do it, the more I look at it as: ‘How many times can I impact [the game]?

“Because in some series you might not get an opportunity to go big, for example, so it is very crucial when you do get a chance to try and really kick on, so I was disappointed in the fourth Test [in Ranchi] where I could have kicked on and didn’t. I felt alright with the bat. I’m still evolving and trying to learn [how to bat] with the tail and how to manage those sorts of situations.”

Foakes has been happy to play second fiddle in big partnerships with frontline batters, including his series-turning century alongside Ben Stokes against South Africa in 2022, but has found it harder to find the right tempo when batting with England’s bowlers. Those struggles were perhaps best exemplified during a ninth-wicket stand worth 12 runs in 12.2 overs with Shoaib Bashir in the second innings at Ranchi.

“Naturally, batting higher up is preferable for me,” Foakes said. “Obviously, when you play for England, that will not always happen and it is understandable. But it naturally suits my game more to be higher. Over the period of time I’ve played for Surrey, there are not that many instances where you come in, face five or 10 balls, and you’re batting with the lower order when you have to play a different game.”

Yet Foakes does not intend to slide down the order in the Championship in order to gain more experience in that role. Instead, he believes that his hopes for retention in the England side ahead of their next Test against West Indies on July 10 will be best served by him scoring as many runs as possible from the middle order.

“It’s tricky,” he said. “I’ve been in and out of England, but it’s always been about trying to get runs to get back in the England team. Here [at The Oval] I’ve found a pretty good spot at No. 5. I’ve been pretty successful for a few years, and for me, it is about always working on my game so I feel like I can do a decent job if that situation does arise.

“There was definitely a period where all my focus and all my training was just to bat and bat and bat, and trying to grind big scores. For me, it is more about trying to score big runs for Surrey but then also working on that [batting with the tail] as more of an add-on than just the odd session… to maybe have a gameplan where I can take someone down rather than just bat against them.”

Foakes has grown accustomed to coming in and out of the England side, and goes into the 2024 summer with a familiar lack of clarity around his status in the Test set-up. “I haven’t been told anything,” he said. “The more years I’ve got into my career and the more I’ve been in and out, I’ve almost come to an acceptance that it has been the case.

“I try not to worry about it, try not to stress too much about getting a long run or external stuff. India, first and foremost, I took as just trying to really enjoy it. The more times you get dropped, the more you realise you don’t know how long you’ve got left… while you’re out there, rather than stress too much about the game or think ‘this might be my last chance’, just enjoy the fact you are playing and you don’t know how long for, essentially.”

England are due to play a dozen Tests in the second half of 2024, so Foakes is considering missing an early-season Championship game in order to manage his workload. “It depends what they’re looking at. [It depends] whether I am likely to play or not likely to play, and then [I will] reassess.”

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

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