Bairstow has been out for the past seven months with a broken leg he sustained in a freak accident playing golf last September. The 33-year-old was the poster boy of England’s Bazball revival last summer, hitting four centuries in as many Tests to help get the reign of coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes off to a flyer.
Bairstow is hopeful of returning for Yorkshire in early May after pulling out of the Indian Premier League last month. But with Harry Brook, his Yorkshire team-mate who replaced him in England’s team, getting off to a spectacular start to life in Test cricket, hitting four centuries in six matches, Bairstow has requested to take the gloves for his county when he returns in the hope he can get back into England’s team as wicketkeeper.
It means Foakes’ place will be under pressure despite the fact he had a positive winter with England, averaging 37.60 with the bat and being near-faultless behind the stumps.
In fact, Foakes’s form since the start of last summer prompted McCullum to say after the two-Test series in New Zealand in February: “He has been excellent. He has really developed as a cricketer for us over the last nine months.”
McCullum, though, did admit earlier in the winter that there was “no doubt” Bairstow would come straight back into the team when he is fit.
It means the debate over Foakes’s place will rage until the Test summer gets underway with a one-off match against Ireland on 1 June before the biggest series of them all against Australia a fortnight later at Edgbaston.
So intense is the speculation that even at Surrey’s pre-season media day at The Oval, the first question to Foakes from one of the local reporters who would normally be more concerned with the minutiae of the County Championship’s revamped points system was a very blunt: “Are the England keepers’ gloves yours?”
A startled Foakes replied: “I don’t know. I’ve no idea, it’s not a question for me. That’s for Baz and Stokesy. I haven’t got a clue.”
Later Foakes went on to explain just why he’s blocking out all the noise over Bairstow, saying: “Essentially there’s just no benefit from me concerning myself with that. I think as a sportsman that’s probably one of the things you have to deal with – external stuff.
“And I think the easiest way I’ve found to deal with it is not dealing with it – just not worrying about it. I think that’s where you get blurred lines sometimes as a sportsman, where external noise comes from nowhere.
“Obviously playing county cricket you don’t get any and then all of a sudden it ramps up quite significantly and that can be a difficult thing. But I’ve found by doing things like staying off social media, not checking Cricinfo during series and things like that just allows me to play the game of cricket again and just be more focused on whatever my job is that day.”
Foakes admits he would have been affected by such chat in the past, but adds: “I think it’s just a distraction you don’t need, it can just muddle your thinking, I guess. It’s takes you away from what you do well and just makes your job more difficult. I think experience over the years has showed me that. So nowadays I just ignore it all.”
The debate over his place may have been redundant had Foakes managed to get England over the line in Wellington in February, with the 30-year-old caught out for 35 on the final day with his team needing just seven to win a thrilling final Test against New Zealand. Instead they went on to lose by one run.
“It was one hell of a Test match,” he said. “That night I was gutted. I was really happy with the way I played but obviously gutted to fall just short and not quite get us over the line.”