Ashes: Who will replace Buttler as England Keeper?

Is Sam Billings set for a Test debut with the gloves on this week in Hobart? Image: cricket.com.au

Just when England felt that everything that could go wrong on this Ashes tour had done, they were left with the situation where both their first and second choice wicketkeepers suffered significant injuries to their vital digits within a day of each other.

Jos Buttler has already been ruled out for Hobart, and there are doubts about the ability of Jonny Bairstow to keep wicket after being hit near the thumb joint by Pat Cummins in Sydney.

Their plight was not quite as extreme as that faced at Lord’s against New Zealand in 1986, where keeper Bruce French was concussed, and batsman Bill Athey took the gloves until recently retired Bob Taylor was plucked out of the sponsor’s tent to deputies.

The following day, uncapped Bobby Parks was called in to fill the space behind the stumps (despite having got to sleep at 6 am having been at a late-night party in Southampton the night before), hence England had four keepers in the same innings.

This week, however, England was able to draft Ollie Pope in from outside the named XI to keep wicket in Australia’s second innings, and this he did with some efficiency, to the point where he pouched four catches without conceding a bye.

Pope looked particularly effective standing back to the medium-pacers, and whilst occasionally appearing ungainly standing up to spinners Leach, Root, and Malan, he still managed to complete a tricky catch to dismiss Marcus Harris.

One of the points that could count against Pope being selected to keep for England in Hobart is the fact that he does not keep wicket on a full-time basis at County Championship level.

The diminutive 24-year-old plays for the same club, Surrey, as Ben Foakes who is considered by many to be the best gloveman in the country and would probably have been on this tour had he not slipped on a wet dressing room floor in his home season and torn his hamstring.

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A proactive step that the English management took upon Buttler and Bairstow’s injuries was to draft Sam Billings into the squad, summoning him from his temporary Homebush home where he had been starring for the Sydney Thunder.

Billings has in the past been pigeonholed by many as a limited-overs specialist, having represented England on 58 occasions in coloured clothing, and has not come under serious consideration for the test squad up until now.

What Billings could do is inject a much-needed sense of enthusiasm and dare into the England squad, one that has seemed crippled by self-doubt and over-analysis throughout this test series. Buttler can on his day be an energising spirit in the field, and a genuinely damaging option at no. 7 in the batting order, but he has this year appeared unsure or unable to express himself.

Billings comes to the squad unencumbered by such uncertainties as have plagued the team throughout the past four matches.

Another potential option for the English is a player who’s played the last two tests, and that is Jonny Bairstow. Whilst he’s already got a position in the side as a batter, he could still be considered as their keeper A position he has owned the previous two Ashes series.

His average when he is a keeper (37.4) is eight runs more than when he’s just a batter (29). He also has experience as a test keeper having played 49 matches as the main keeper, taking 178 catches and 13 stumpings along the way.

However, in recent times he hasn’t kept much in test matches. Bare the last test against India last year, he didn’t keep a single game for nearly two years.

England is reportedly considering making up to five chances for the final Test in Hobart with Bairstow one of the players in doubt, under an injury cloud due to a thumb injury.

If he does play, there’s still a 90 percent chance it’ll be as a batter due to that bruised thumb.

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