It took Ben Foakes 44 balls to do what Rory Burns took 3 balls – score the first boundary in their debut Test. Coming in at 103/5, Foakes set about undoing the damage started by Burns chasing a ball down the leg stump line.
He was good while facing spinners – he looked assured of either foot. Today was a day every England batsman who came out to bat before Foakes came with the intention of imposing themselves on the match. What else can explain the shot that Moeen Ali wanted to play off the first ball that he faced? Result? The first golden duck in his career.
Ben Stokes in a similar manner wanted to fetch the ball and ended up stretching more than what was necessary. He was bowled by what could’ve been punched to mid-off for a single. At that stage, a total of 200 looked too far. Foakes walked in at this stage in the match, a situation far from ideal for a debutant. There have only been two centuries from a number 7 on debut for England – Prior walked in when the score was more than 350 and Thorpe had situation similar to what Foakes had today. While Thorpe had Gooch for company, Foakes had Buttler and Curran.
Batsmen have different strategies for batting on the pitches in sub-continent. Some hit their way out, some grind the bowlers out and some devise their plans on specific shots. Foakes, today, alternated between the second and third of the mentioned strategies. In the company of Buttler, he started slowly and picked up pace. After Curran’s wicket, he concentrated more on being there than scoring runs – Rashid did the latter job for him.
Facing spinners can be a tough task. During the IPL when Rashid Khan was wreaking havoc, Sangakkara, in the studio, was asked what would he do counter him. Sanga replied back saying that as a right hander, he would stand on the off stump to negate the power of Rashid’s googly and force him to alter the line. Root, in his brief stay at the crease, was doing the same before rush of blood saw him coming down the track and yorking himself.
Foakes must have seen the dismissal as he set about to be effective rather than pretty. For balls pitched on the stumps line, he went back comfortably and tapped it to the midwicket region. This was what he did till Tea. After tea, he started coming down the track, not in an attempt to force the bowler out of the attack, but to tell the bowler that if he changes the line, he could come down the track and play it to similar areas.
Sri Lankan bowlers would go back and check their line to him. While line didn’t seem to trouble him so much, it would be interesting to see what changes in pace, change in the angle and flight would do to his poise. Day 1 was won by Foakes when it seemed that Sri Lanka would walk away with the honours