Ben Foakes to join Lions camp in latest indication of England plans

Foakes has not played for England since the tour of New Zealand in February (Getty Images)
Foakes has not played for England since the tour of New Zealand in February (Getty Images)

Ben Foakes will join the Lions training camp in the UAE this month in the latest indication that the Surrey wicketkeeper is firmly in England’s plans for the upcoming Test tour of India.

Foakes was a regular during the first year of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum’s reign but has not played for England since the tour to New Zealand in February, having been dropped at the start of the summer to accommodate Jonny Bairstow’s return from a broken leg.

He was, however, still handed a fresh central contract in the latest batch of deals agreed last month and will join a 20-man Lions squad for a three-week training camp from mid-November.

The Test team will also use a camp in the UAE as preparation for the five-match series in India early next year, with Foakes expected to be part of the squad for that tour. While it remains to be seen whether the 30-year-old can wrest the gloves back from Bairstow, the debate over the identity of England’s wicketkeeper is sure to resurface given the specialist nature of keeping on turning tracks in the subcontinent.

As well as Foakes, bowlers James Anderson and Ollie Robinson will also join part of the Lions camp, as will Ollie Pope and Jack Leach as they continue their rehabilitations from the shoulder and back injuries that curtailed their respective Test summers. McCullum will also attend part of the camp along with a number of his coaches and managing director of men’s cricket Rob Key.

Pope is also likely to be named in the 50-over squad for the white-ball series in the Caribbean next month as England look to start their rebuild following a disastrous World Cup defence.

It had initially been expected that the entire World Cup party would be rested for that trip, which features three ODIs and five T20s, but captain Jos Buttler insisted he hopes to lead the team on a tour that has gained in importance with a view to the future following England’s miserable show in India.

A number of other players who have been at the World Cup but are in line to be involved in the regeneration of the side, including the likes of Brydon Carse and Gus Atkinson, could also be involved. Carse was initially included in the squad for the Lions camp but has now dropped out having flown out to the World Cup following Reece Topley’s tournament-ending injury. The Durham quick could also be in line for a Test debut in India later in the winter.

“We’d always stayed quite open-minded about that West Indies selection,” performance director Mo Bobat said on Thursday. “We haven’t picked it yet, we’ve deliberately left it quite late.

“Whatever you do immediately after a World Cup is difficult. If you have a tough World Cup and you bomb out early, it’s tough. If you win it, it’s tough because there’s a bit of a hangover of people being in a positive mood and celebrating. Either way it’s quite tricky.”

Both Anderson and Leach have been bowling at Loughborough this week, where the Lions group met up for the first time ahead of flying to Abu Dhabi on November 16, with coaching staff for the tour to include former England spinner Graeme Swann and Freddie Flintoff, who has been increasingly involved in the England set-up in recent months during his recovery from a near-fatal car crash while filming for Top Gear last year.

The camp is being seen as a precursor to an ‘A’ tour to India in the New Year. The dates for that trip are yet to be finalised but the plan is for three first-class matches to take place around the same time as England’s Test series.

“We’re trying to position the trip so that even though it’s a Lions developmental experience, it is also of use to England,” Bobat explained. “We’re trying to position it so that a player could move across or move between the groups.”

Unlike last year, when the Lions played a one-day series in Sri Lanka, there is no competitive white-ball cricket planned for their winter schedule.

That may appear a peculiar arrangement against the backdrop of a failed World Cup campaign, particularly given heavy criticism over the lack of 50-over cricket available to the best young talent now that the One-Day Cup has been relegated to development status and played alongside the Hundred.

However, Bobat believes the number of overseas franchise opportunities available to English players during the winter months make true Lions 50-over cricket both unnecessary and impractical.

“The focus for the Lions is very much a red ball focus,” Bobat said. “I don’t see the point of us doing lots of Lions white ball cricket because franchise cricket does a lot of that gap bridging anyway.

“So you’re just competing for talent and you’re not going to get it, probably. But from a red ball perspective, I feel like we can really meet a need and I think it’s quite a precise need and a need England needs us to meet as well.”

He added: “Last winter we took white-ball teams to Sri Lanka. That in itself became quite tricky in terms of fielding a team that we thought was truly representative of an ‘A’ team. It was probably 50 to 60 per cent an ‘A’ team and then some future picks, which was still good and worthwhile but it probably didn’t feel the way I wanted it to feel.

“It was interesting that we had players, certainly one and maybe a couple, that were playing for the Lions and making their List A debut. It’s quite a strange position to be in.."