Former keeper and wicketkeeper-batsman Stewart spoke out after Surrey’s Ollie Pope was handed the gloves for the second Test against New Zealand, after Jos Buttler was ruled out with a back injury.
Pope equipped himself well on a rain-shortened day in which the Black Caps reached 173-3 on the back of an unbeaten century from Tom Latham (101no) but otherwise England’s bid to level the series didn’t go to script.
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“I have a small amount of sympathy for Ed Smith, National Selector, because the chance of a keeper going down in a two-Test series is five per cent,” Stewart said.
“But it is international cricket. It’s not what you need and I’m convinced it will never happen again because they’ve been caught cold.
“Ollie Pope is a ‘keeper – he kept as a youngster – but obviously with Ben Foakes at Surrey his opportunities are very rare but he did an exceptional job today.
“He’s best when fresh. I spoke to him yesterday morning when he told me he’d got the nod and he’s done a little bit of keeping in training leading into the game.
“But it’s far from ideal – not just from Pope’s point of view but from England’s point of view because if (and I hope it doesn’t happen) Pope puts down a chance, then people will be saying ‘where is a proper ‘keeper?’
“Foakes is England’s best ‘keeper and should be in that set up and I’d like to think he’ll be going to South Africa. He’s at the gym at the Oval working hard. He was on official standby.
“If anything had happened in the first two warm-up games or if anything happened in the first Test match he had time to get out there but because Buttler got injured the day before in the gym, he had no price of going out there.
“The one thing where I think England did slip up is when Jonny Bairstow stayed out to cover off Joe Denly’s ankle injury – for the sake of 10 days, why wouldn’t you keep Jonny out there?”
England’s selection came under closer scrutiny after Zak Crawley was handed a debut and Chris Woakes was preferred to Jack Leach – the first time that England have gone into a Test without a spinner since the Headingley clash against South Africa in 2012.
With Kent batsman Crawley inked in to bat at six, Pope will drop down to seven – a move Stewart described as “harsh”.
“He made his debut batting at four, which he shouldn’t have done – he should have started at six,” said Stewart. “He’s now starting at six – ok he’s played two loose shots in the first game.
“He’s going down to seven so again he’s batting out of position. He’ll have 100 or whatever number of overs in his legs when he goes out to bat – it’s tough. He is a tough cookie but he’s not the best option; Ben Foakes is the best option.”
Also on The Cricket Debate, in which Alec and host Charles Colvile were joined by former Kent and England batsman Rob Key…
– whether playing five seamers is ever a good idea. Rob says not…
– does England’s selection suggest a lack of confidence in Jack Leach’s ability to create chances with the ball?
– how badly could Stokes’ injury affect England’s hopes of levelling the series and will he be fit for South Africa?
– are England getting the best out of Jofra Archer? Alec says Chris Jordan has a role to play
– what makes Tom Latham such an effective batsman, in particular his tempo
– why Bruce Oxenford overturned the decision against Ross Taylor when he had 25 when it wasn’t a clear and obvious mistake
Watch day two of the second Test between New Zealand and England live on Sky Sports Cricket (channel 404) and Sky Sports Main Event (channel 401) from 9pm on Friday.