All eyes on a sun-drenched Lord’s Monday were on the bright and new. There was the prospect of another international season for England and the return of spectators for Wednesday’s first Test against New Zealand.
Then there was the sight of workmen rushing to complete the beautiful new Compton and Edrich stands that will further enhance the home of cricket.
Most significantly, at England’s practice there was a new wicketkeeper, seemingly catapulted out of nowhere into a Test debut against the Kiwis.
James Bracey makes his test debut for England against New Zealand at Lord’s
Just a few weeks ago, there would have been a good chance James Bracey took the gloves on for the first test of a seismic year or so for Joe Root’s England.
Even if Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow were expected to miss out on here due to their involvement in the IPL, there was still the significant presence of Ben Foakes to step in after his success in the otherwise forgettable 3-1 Test defeat in India .
But one bizarre injury—with Foakes damaging his hamstring and slipping so badly on the Oval locker room floor that he will be out for three months—changed all that. So Bracey steps down as fourth-choice goalkeeper and one of two likely debutants, along with Ollie Robinson in an England squad that has been weakened not only by IPL absences, but also by injury to Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer.
Not that the Gloucestershire southpaw is an unknown celebrity, as he has long been identified as a potential Test player. He was earmarked as a candidate for the top three, rather than a goalkeeper and number 7 batsman.
Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer (pictured) will miss the test match against the Kiwis due to injury
But England have wisely used Bracey’s time as a traveling reserve in the bio-secure conditions – not to mention ‘bubbles’ – they have endured over the past year to work on his wicket-holding.
“Things can happen when you least expect it,” Bracey said before practicing with the English bowlers under the conditions made unique by the Lord’s slope.
“When I heard about Ben it was a big shock as it wasn’t really on my radar to play as a goalkeeper in this series.
“But I’ve always known that if I kept working on my maintenance, this would be a possibility and I’m glad I took that extra shift.
Bracey has been working on his wicket holding while patiently waiting for an opportunity
“I spent a lot of time over the winter calculating how I could get into the team, but Foakesy needed a freak accident to give me that chance.
“When I go out it’s not just a chance to push myself with the gloves, but also to really show what I can do with the bat.”
It says everything about close-knit modern England that Bracey, 24, felt able to reach out to Foakes to discuss what awaits him this week at a time when the Surrey man was ‘devastated’.
“I’ve been in touch with Ben over the past few days,” said Bracey, who has also worked on his glove work with Bruce French, seemingly as closely involved as ever, despite relinquishing his role as England manager. “I’m devastated by Ben and he’s been brilliant to me. Ben was very helpful and gave me some little tips to stick with the English bowlers that I can definitely get to the middle.
Bracey has also teamed up with former England coach Bruce French (right)
“I know there can be factors with Lord’s like the wobble of the ball, but I think my technique for holding depends on it.”
Bracey experienced all of Lord’s weaknesses when he impressed with both bat and gloves for Gloucestershire against Middlesex for the Sky cameras earlier this season.
In particular, he looks like a restrained, organized and orthodox character.
“When it comes to batting, I like to fight,” Bracey said. “I’m a tough player who likes to be patient and do my best to stay calm. As a goalkeeper I wouldn’t say I’m happy or anything like that. I prefer to focus on the skills I have to bring in.’
All that needs to be decided now is which bowlers Bracey will stick to. The absence of Stokes and Chris Woakes means that coach Chris Silverwood will resign on having an unbalanced side, with Bracey being followed at seven by four bowlers.
England head coach Chris Silverwood will have an ‘unbalanced’ side against the Kiwis
Spin doesn’t always impress at Lord’s so chances are England will leave out Jack Leach, play Robinson at eight and follow him with Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and one of Mark Wood or Olly Stone.
There was a reminder of the past at Lord’s in the form of former long-serving England manager Phil Neale. He had a new look in New Zealand colors and came out of retirement to be their ops on this tour.
“I’m happy to help them,” Neale said. “This job also gives me a chance to say goodbye to the English guys properly as it all ended a bit abruptly for me with the Covid situation. “I’m sure the players will pull my leg over me being with New Zealand, but if anyone says anything I’ll stand next to Jeetan Patel! (former New Zealand off spinner, now England spin coach).’
A classic case of old meets new.
JAMES BRACEY: THE STORY UNTIL NOW
WHERE DOES HE COME FROM?
Bristol-born Bracey made his first-class debut at age 19 at number 3 for Gloucestershire at the end of the 2016 season. He surpassed their batting averages a year later, averaging 74 in four games, scoring his first century . Balancing his early cricket career with college, he graduated from Loughborough University in 2018 with a degree in sports science and business management.
SO IS HE A BIG HITTER LIKE JOS BUTTLER?
Not really – his success was based on solid defense and he is less flamboyant than many modern goalkeeper batsmen. The left-hander has a stroke rate of 48 in red ball cricket and an average of 37, although he scores faster and heavier in both white ball formats. He actually didn’t start wicking regularly until 2019, in the limited-overs side of Gloucestershire – better than their batting averages in the One Day Cup and T20 Blast.
Bracey said last year, “I wouldn’t say I’m a limited batter, but I wouldn’t say I’m the smoothest batter. I’m still trying to work out a game plan that works for me and makes it hard to get out, really. I think that’s the main thing – the longer you stay there, the more runs you’re going to score.”
AND HE IS A TRUSTED FACE IN THE CAMP?
Yes – Bracey played for England Lions in Australia in early 2020 and is well known to senior players and staff, having joined the training squad for the series against the West Indies last summer, scoring 85 in an intra-squad warm-up game. He then went on a winter tour of Sri Lanka and India.
HOW IS HIS FORM THIS SEASON?
Awesome. In March, he signed a deal to stay in Gloucestershire until 2023 and is their top scorer in this summer’s championship with 479 runs at 47.9. The 24-year-old now has six first-class centuries and will be the first Gloucestershire player to make his Test debut in 15 years – after Jon Lewis, who was at Lord’s on Monday in his role as England bowling coach.