It’s an oft-stated adage that a wicketkeeper has had a good game when you don’t notice him. However, ask people for their enduring memory of the 2009 T20 World Cup in England (one of the great tournaments, if only for the mere presence of Graham Napier in international cricket) and it’ll be a piece of wicketkeeping beyond parallel in recent memory; James Foster’s stumping of Yuvraj Singh. It arguably won the game for England, defending a low-ish total against the reigning world champions. The kind of moment on which limited overs games turn, as a dangerman – one who had hit six sixes in an over in the previous tournament of this genre – was dismissed and momentum swung back to the hosts. So why is it that the man responsible for a work of cricketing art has had such an infrequent and unsubstantial international career?
Foster is a bit of an unlucky cricketer in many ways. He was promoted beyond his years back in 2001 when Alec Stewart refused to tour India for various reasons. Having performed competently, he proceeded to break his arm and fall back behind Stewart in the pecking order. He’s also had to carry around the stigma of not being a good enough batsman at international level. While the numbers aren’t great from his very limited opportunities – an average of 13.66 from 11 matches isn’t exactly Gilchristian – he hasn’t played an ODI since 2002 and it’s fair to say that we’re all a little older and wiser than we were then. This correspondent bought Liberty X’s debut album in that year, which even the belated excuse of a tenuous cricketing link to a certain Kevin Peter Pietersen cannot justify.
Domestically, he averages 28.37 in List A cricket which is perfectly acceptable for someone batting in the lower middle order, and he is capable of unorthodoxy which the England team all too often lacks in the middle overs of the 50 over format. He is also now well-versed in the art of captaincy thanks to his time in the job at Essex; surely the rather callow Alastair Cook (in captaincy terms) would prefer to have another pair of leader’s eyes out there with him?
Playing Foster would also end any temptation to have the keeper opening the batting. England have tried this time and time again and the fact that we’re still discussing the theory now tells you how successful it’s been, regardless of the incumbent of the gloves. Foster is no opener, he’s no pinch-hitter. He’s a keeper and a damn good one. He can do that bit, the batsmen can bat, and the bowlers can bowl. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? If the otherwise exceptional management team could grasp that, there could and should still be a place for a man who has all too often been forgotten when considering the national team.