Last week Essex Cricket Club decided not to renew the contract of wicketkeeper James Foster, one of the county’s most ever capped players, spanning a career of just over 18 years.
The stats tell you a story in itself. 13,761 runs scored. 23 100s, 70 50s, a top score of 212, 839 catches and 62 stumpings. Captain for five years. Decorated would be an understatement. So is it right for Essex to immediately send a notice to Foster that his services are no longer required after such a stellar career at the Cloudfm County Ground in Chelmsford?
A Cricketing Conundrum
Growing up in the east-end of London provided Foster with a myriad of opportunities. With a number of established youth cricket clubs from Redbridge, Woodford and Loughton all within close proximity of each other.
Foster, in the end, chose Ilford and then Wanstead and Snaresbrook Cricket Club to gain the necessary experience to expand his skills. An ideal scenario given the family home was located in Walthamstow, just a twenty-minute drive away from both grounds. From the bustling streets of the capital city suburbs to the tranquil anecdote of Durham University, Fozzy, as he’d soon be nicknamed by Essex fans, took the same journey through education as Nasser Hussain.
Hussain would soon meet Foster again in the near future.
Essex And Broken Bones
To be the recipient of the NBC Denis Compton Award is no mean feat. Given it’s an accolade to the ‘Most Promising Young Player’ across the 18 cricketing counties. Especially as Alastair Cook, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler have all received the title.
In 2001 James Foster was the standout pick. Just a year after having made his Essex debut and a near immediate first-class hundred against Worcestershire. The following campaign though disaster struck. Foster was quite literally struck off with a broken arm in two places after a freak accident in training.
Upon return, and with deselection from the England squad confirmed, Fozzy’s confidence needed rebuilding. So it was perhaps not a surprise that batting averages collapsed and even a place in the Essex squad looked worrying.
Yet the response was unduly emphatic. During 2004 he hit four centuries, averaged 51 and ironically claimed 51 victims at the stumps. More than in any other season. The following campaigns took the same page and consistency continued.
Essex would be his home from home.
A Shattered Dream And Second Chance
Ask any young aspiring cricketer and they will say that to play for their home country is the most prestigious achievement.
So for James Foster to be called up to the England test squad, added to the fact that Alec Stewart described him as the best pure wicket-keeper in the world, was an incredible moment. Between Fozzy’s first test match against India in 2001 and last versus Australia in 2002, he participated in seven matches for England. Yet failed to inspire, struggling physically and mentally.
A top score of 48 and just 17 catches in 14 innings would not be enough to please the selectors. With Geraint Jones’ form at Kent attracting attention there would be no immediate second chance for Foster once he suffered a freak injury.
There would be however in 2008. Following an injury to Worcestershire’s Steven Davies, Foster’s form for Essex allowed him an opportunity with the England Lions winter tour of India. Yet doubt on whether he could displace Matt Prior remained. Like in politics it was always difficult to make an impact from the outer perimeters of the set-up. Rather than being in the constant limelight.
Finally Foster did get a chance. During England’s infamous 2009 ICC World Twenty20. Where in a group including West Indies, India and South Africa the hosts crashed out at the first stage.
Bar winning a cap for England perhaps the second greatest achievement in the game of cricket is to captain your county. In 2010 Foster was given that opportunity when Mark Pettini stepped down due to his poor batting form.
For five year Foster remained captain, overseeing Essex’s near misses in Division Two of the County Championship. Before the county were finally promoted from the second-tier of domestic cricket in 2016.
To be given a name like Fozzy and for it to stick, highlighted the fact that the Leytonstone born lad became somewhat of a maverick later on in his career.
And in 2011 Foster was given a beneficiary by Essex, including an event called ‘Fozzy’s Big Bash’ starring Muttiah Muralitharan and Freddie Flintoff. No doubt James Foster was popular amongst his core support and those who watched him play. This was the pinnacle of that.
A Fiery Temperament But A Damp End
With mavericks there is always a tendency that they won’t be out of the headlines for too long. So it wasn’t a shock to see the ECB knocking (not literally of course) on Foster’s door in 2011.
Essex had been going toe to toe against Surrey in a televised T20 game. When Fozzy became the recipient of a waist-high full toss from Zander de Bruyn. It was safe to say he didn’t take it too well. Foster vented his fury and frustration at the umpires in a manner in which the ECB deemed was worthy of a two-match ban.
This fiery exchange was a far cry from James Foster’s eventual retirement. It is a soft ending for such a loyal servant of the club. What he’s said is pretty much spot on. That he is disappointed, feels he has more in the game to give but he respects the wishes of the club.
While James Foster didn’t always say the right thing at the right time, there was no doubt that wicket keeping class and a deep understanding of cricket became his two biggest assets.