Hotly-tipped Ashes hopeful Ben Foakes pays tribute to late father

The wicketkeeper-batsman is on the brink of realising a lifelong ambition, as one of three uncapped members of the England Ashes squad which has just arrived in Australia.

His dad Peter, who died of a heart attack when his son was just 13, was well-versed in top-level sport as a Premier and Football League referee.

Ben, who has the date of great personal significance tattooed on his left wrist following his father's death in 2006, has an opportunity to make a name for himself this winter - initially as understudy to Jonny Bairstow but with a Test debut far from out of the reckoning.

Recalling his father's influence, Foakes remembers early excursions to club practice en route to a professional career which would begin with Essex and took him three years ago to Surrey.

He said: "My dad died when I was 13 - he got me into sport, took me to cricket, took me to training and obviously it was a massive hit when he died.

"It took me a few years to deal with. He had a heart attack - there was no warning at all. It was quite difficult."

More than a decade on, Foakes has acquired some significant admirers - not least former England captain Alec Stewart, who was so taken with the 24-year-old's performances that at the start of the 2017 season he described him as the best wicketkeeper in the world.

Foakes also brings some handy statistics with the bat into the equation - a first-class average of almost 42 which is superior to specialists James Vince and Dawid Malan, currently the likeliest inhabitants of England's problem number three and five slots against Australia.

Whichever of his skills can prove most persuasive, Foakes is encouraged by the upward curve he has sustained.

"I am happy with the way I have been batting since I came to Surrey," he said.

"That is all I am trying to do, to learn.

"These days you have to do that as a wicketkeeper, so I am putting as much emphasis on my batting as I can."

He has logged the praise from Surrey's director of cricket and ex-Test wicketkeeper Stewart too, of course.

"I saw it ... and obviously had a few Indian fans jibing and bringing up MS Dhoni."

When asked what he can do to keep Bairstow on his toes, though, Foakes' respectful reply is telling.

"Everything, very well!.

"I think obviously Jonny is world-class - I can't (be) expecting to replace him."

Even so, he is not about to fit too snugly into the understudy role.

"Everything I am focused on is playing that first (Test) match - but if it doesn't happen then there are four more matches where I may be called upon.

"I just need to be focused, so that if at any point the team needs me I am ready."

  Ben Foakes is hoping for an Ashes Test debut this winter
Ben Foakes is hoping for an Ashes Test debut this winter