There was a time when the battle to keep wicket for England’s test side involved a straight fight between Johnny Bairstow and Jos Buttler. With both men offering runs down the order, the selectors even had the luxury of picking both with Bairstow usually filling the role as a specialist batsman.
As the first test series of the summer approaches, early season averages show that no fewer than four stumpers could be in the frame to face New Zealand. Ben Foakes has already featured for the test team while James Bracey has been knocking on the door for some time and both could be included.
A Bracing and Breezy Start
Gloucestershire have started the County Championship in solid form and their most recent fixture against Middlesex took them to the top of Group B. In testing conditions, a low scoring game was inevitable and the division leaders overcame their hosts by seven wickets.
James Bracey top scored on first innings for Gloucestershire with a patient 75 from 143 balls. While he received support from Ian Cockbain and Ryan Higgins, this was a knock that gave his side a crucial first innings lead and it effectively changed the course of the game.
Bracey is known around the county circuits as an impressive wicket keeper but he may not get the gloves in the upcoming series against the Kiwis. He’s already displayed the technique and temperament needed for batting in test cricket and it’s been a matter of time before he gets a chance. With Bairstow and Buttler still in quarantine following the IPL, this could be the perfect opportunity to get Bracey involved.
Ben Foakes added his own claim to the England wicket keeping slot when he made a century on debut against Sri Lanka. Excellent glovework added to an impressive start and many felt he was unlucky to subsequently lose his place.
Foakes has yet to play a home test but he’s the man in possession having kept in the closing stages in India. He’s also averaging over 40 with the bat in the early rounds of the County Championship and therefore seems a more likely starter than Bracey.
It’s unlikely that Johnny Bairstow and Jos Buttler will be out of the international picture for too long. The ECB fixture list for this season includes T20is and ODIs against Sri Lanka, followed by limited overs matches versus Pakistan and a full, five-test series with India.
A return to Pakistan follows the English season while 2021 ends with the T20 World Cup and an Ashes series against Australia. There are some vital fixtures within that overall list and it’s almost certain that the selectors will need to rest and rotate their key players over a busy international year.
Buttler and Bairstow will almost certainly be needed for the India series, the Ashes tests and the T20 World Cup. England will mean no disrespect to New Zealand but this is where the back up squad are likely to step in.
England and New Zealand will face each other in just two tests, the first of which starts at Lord’s on Wednesday June 2nd. The Kiwis are competitive in all three forms of the game but early markets from sportsbooks associated with sbo.net put Joe Root’s England down as clear favourites.
With no more international cricket left until the start of the series, England’s position at the top is unlikely to be affected but the odds themselves may well change. Sbo.net will monitor the figures and adjust the markets as and when those updates occur.
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Once the series is put to bed, New Zealand will move on to the World Test Championship while England will have another busy summer of international fixtures. With the policy of rest and rotation firmly in place, it’s likely that we’ll see some new caps handed out through the season. Ollie Robinson and Ryan Higgins are other names in contention but James Bracey’s assured batting looks to have put him at the front of the queue.