James Bracey interview: I’m gutted for Ben Foakes - he’s part of reason I’m ready for England Test debut

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

James Bracey looks overwhelmingly likely to become England’s latest wicketkeeper-batter and their 698th men’s Test cricketer at Lord’s on Wednesday.

But before he does — and he admits he “probably won’t believe it’s happening until I’m on the field” — he wants to talk about Ben Foakes, the man whose unfortunate slip in Surrey’s changing room has handed him the gloves.

Foakes, Bracey feels, is a major reason he is considered ready to keep at Test level, having set the Surrey keeper as a benchmark when called up to England’s 55-man squad in the first biosecure bubble last summer. Many hours training and chatting later, Bracey is preparing for a debut.

“I am gutted for him,” he tells Standard Sport. “Having seen up close how hard that bloke works, how long he’s had to wait for opportunities. He’s got that stretch of games he was looking for and this happens. I wish him all the best.

“I was keen to follow in his footsteps. It is quite clear to see that he’s one of the best glovemen in the world, so when I got into the England environment, I saw how hard he works, and thought I’ll put in as many hours as him, do similar things and see what happens. I know my keeping has improved since.”

The result, Bracey feels, is that his keeping has “gone to a different level” so that “I can justify my place in a side as a keeper now, not just a batter who is a keeper here and there”. He accepts that it is peculiar that, with Foakes injured and Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow ordered to rest after the Indian Premier League, he has gone from fourth-choice keeper on the recent tour of the subcontinent to preparing to make his Test debut.

Distilled in Bracey’s comments are the qualities that have made him a favourite of England management lately: intelligence, empathy, hard work, and self-awareness. So too in this admission – “I am realistic that Covid-19 has accelerated my path to international recognition” because of the expanded England squads.

“I did well on the Lions [in Australia last year], but I still think I was a big season away from knocking the door down,” he says. “Due to covid and how cricket has changed I have been exposed to it earlier than some might have thought. I have made a conscious effort to make the most of it because you never know how long it will last. It’s been accelerated, but I’ve managed to find my way from 55 to 15, and hopefully now down to 11.”

Much changed for Bracey on Wednesday, when Chris Silverwood got in touch to inform him of Foakes’ news, and the announcement that Edgbaston would be at 70% capacity for the Second Test. “Even a smaller crowd at Lord’s will be amazing,” he says. “But Edgbaston, the thought of that… it’s giving me butterflies to be honest”

 (Getty Images for ECB)
(Getty Images for ECB)

Bracey is a senior figure in Gloucestershire’s high-flying side, batting in the top three (averaging 48) and keeping. He will be the first Gloucestershire player in England whites since 2006, when Jon Lewis – now the national team’s bowling coach – played a single Test.

As England’s keeper, he will bat further down, likely at No7, which he has never done in Championship cricket, but he is comfortable with the challenge. His batting is solid rather than spectacular, with CricViz data showing him to be the best defender in county cricket (he averages 171 defensive shots before for each dismissal playing defensively). As he points out, he may face the second new ball, too.

“It’s [batting No7] different but if you have the skills to bat up top, it’s an easier transition going down than the other way,” he says. “I will take it in my stride. It’s a step up into Tests with the bat, there will be differences I need to combat. I look forward to that.”

Bracey will head into England’s bubble tomorrow, but was due to be in London with his county this week anyway, facing Surrey at the Kia Oval. He is sitting the game out, but his parents are still travelling up to watch, having been starved of live cricket since 2019. They might as well stay until Wednesday.

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