If it sounded a bit village it is because it pretty much was. When Ben Foakes came out to bat ahead of Ben Stokes on day three in Mount Maunganui, the promotion was not some tactical masterstroke but rather because his captain had just sat on the toilet.
A future after-dinner story that emerged from England’s 267-run win over New Zealand in the first Test, the wicketkeeper frantically scrambling to strap his pads, and then delivering such a calm half-century, also said a bit about the team’s current disposition.
“It kind of feels a bit like club cricket,” said Foakes, whose measured 80-ball 51 that afternoon allowed Stuart Broad’s four-wicket surge to begin under lights and set up the 1-0 lead England now take to Basin Reserve on Friday.
“When I first came into the team, the pressures involved in Test cricket were so extreme. You were so worried about playing a false shot and things like that. Sometimes now you can get out in a weird way and it’s kind of a joke. It’s taken the pressure completely off. If you fail it doesn’t matter because there’s a bigger end goal.
“It’s unleashing potential and a lot of guys are tapping into their one-day cricket and the crossover between the two is working really well.”
Rarely in Surrey’s white-ball teams over the past two years, Foakes was initially unsure if his matinee idol face would fit when Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum took charge of the Test team last summer. Despite those silken gloves, he feared a first-class strike-rate of 50 with the bat might not be what they were looking for.
“I’m not, as you’d say, Bazball,” he explained. “But it hasn’t been ‘you have to try and hit every ball for six’, it’s been ‘play your way but if you think the option is on, don’t um and ah about it and be negative, go for it.’”
In a team looking to dial things up to 11 on the amplifier, Foakes has often been a crucial counterpoint. The right-hander may not be a six-hitter but he has been involved in four of England’s 16 century partnerships since the start of last summer, including the pivotal sixth-wicket stand of 173 with Stokes against South Africa at Old Trafford.
“A strength of mine is to play slightly more ‘normal’ cricket,” said Foakes. “And bridging the gap between our explosive starts and batting with the tail. Some of these guys have got more ability to hit it all over the place; I don’t think it’s smart for me to go and try to be Ben Stokes or Harry Brook.”
Foakes credits the apparent “clubbie” vibe for easing any tension over his spot, a contrast to his first run in the winter of 2018-19 when briefly usurping Jonny Bairstow behind the stumps. During last December’s 3-0 win in Pakistan, Ollie Pope kept for two Tests and his Surrey teammate, first ill and then omitted tactically, rolled with it.
Not that the 30-year-old is not mindful of the competition. Brook’s incendiary emergence at No 5 means a potential logjam down the line, with Bairstow the first to ignite England’s afterburners last summer – 681 runs at 75.66 in six Tests – before the gruesome broken leg he suffered on the golf course in August.
Such was the severity of that compound fracture, Bairstow has only recently begun light running on an anti-gravity treadmill as he looks to return in time for this summer’s Ashes campaign. But assuming all goes well, McCullum has already said there is “no question” the Yorkshireman will come straight back into the XI.
There are a number of ways England could go here. Though another chance comes in Wellington this week, Zak Crawley’s lurching returns could see Bairstow asked to perform the aggressive opener’s role he made his own in England’s World Cup-winning 50-over team. Brook or, less likely, Joe Root are alternatives here.
Then there is the prospect of Bairstow reclaiming the gloves. “Naturally you’re going to think about things,” replied Foakes, when asked about this. “My England journey has been a bit of a rollercoaster from day one. But at the stage I’m at, there’s no point stressing over it. I’m having some good form and I’m just trying to enjoy that.
“I think this is arguably the best time to be a Test cricketer for England. If you can’t enjoy it now then you’re never going to.”