On Wednesday, Gloucestershire’s young James Bracey will step up the mark as England’s newest Three Lion against New Zealand, all because of an unfortunate injury to Ben Foakes. So, ahead of his debut, who is James Bracey, how did he make the cut and what exactly does he bring to the table?
Who is James Bracey?
Three years after having graduated from Loughborough, James Bracey has already arrived at the international scene, for the Three Lions, set to make his debut in the first Test against New Zealand. Traditionally, a left-handed top-order batsman, who often mirrors the technique and solidarity shown by Andrew Strauss, Bracey was picked in the squad primarily as a second-choice wicketkeeper.
It was in 2020, right before the restart of cricket in the United Kingdom, that Bracey was part of the 55-man group of players shortlisted for the English international fixtures. Since then, he has not looked back, becoming one of the vital cogs of the Gloucestershire outfit. Interestingly, more than half of his appearances in the Championship has come in the top three, showcasing one of the best defences in the country. According to CricViz’s data, Bracey has one of the best defensive batting numbers in the County, with 170 defensive shots per dismissal.
His batting alongside his ability to keep wickets pretty well has tilted the selection in his favour despite the likes of Ollie Robinson of Kent, Nottinghamshire’s Tom Moores all shining in the last two years. It was only this he has taken up keeping more seriously, with 20 dismissals in six County games.
How did he make it?
Not as a wicket-keeper, in fact, before this season’s County Championship, he hadn’t kept wickets much, just one last season. However, he had found himself close to a selection in Sri Lanka, after several top-order batsmen were plagued by injuries and succumbed to England’s rotation policy. However, he never made the cut, neither in Sri Lanka nor in India.
Ahead of the New Zealand tour, the Three Lions’ head coach Chris Silverwood made it clear as daylight that several new players were going to get their opportunity. Ollie Robinson and James Bracey were the two who made the cut to the squad against New Zealand. Even before the tour, a freak injury, a slip of the leg rather had ruled incumbent wicketkeeper Ben Foakes out of the series, pushing Bracey in line for a debut. That’s how he made it to the team, on the back of his 479-run and 20 dismissal season for Gloucestershire.
What does he bring to the table?
“Anything can happen really. I’m only one step away from being at least in contention, and it’s nice to know that it might seem like I’m outside of that 16 at the moment, but I feel like my route in is a lot easier than the other reserves. A lot could happen a lot more clearly,” Bracey told The Cricketer earlier.
Interestingly, what tilted his selection was the defence, typical of a top-order batsman, as mentioned several times throughout the article. Against pace, according to Cricviz, Bracey is a monster, with runs all around the cricketing pitch, showing his strength both in the off and leg side, making him a well-rounded player. In fact, the Gloucestershire cricketer averages close to 250 while playing on the leg side, be it steering, flicking or thwarting the ball.
However, that’s where it gets interesting, as strong as he is off his leg, Bracey’s strong suit comes in the offside, where he has scored 59% of his runs in the last three seasons. Since his debut in 2016, the southpaw has scored 2575 First-Class runs, averaging close to 37 with the bat. His conversation rate too is quite remarkable, having scored six centuries and 12 half-centuries in his short FC career. A proper top-order batsman and a wicketkeeper who is eager to learn on the go, Bracey might well be a long-term option for the Three Lions.
Where does he feature?
Bracey-yourself, he is all expected to make his debut but outside the top-four, as it looks. After an injury to Ben Foakes, England immediately responded with call-ups for Kent’s Sam Billings and Leicestershire’s Haseeb Hameed, which means Bracey would take up the role of Foakes. On June 2, the left-handed batsmen should be seen walking out at No.6 or 7, depending on the fitness and availability of the other stars.
In his appearance for England Lions last year, against Australia A, Bracey walked out at No.6, where he scored a 113-ball 65, showcasing his worth as a wicket-keeper batsman. Unless something dramatic unfolds, he is expected to walk out to bat, in the middle-order, in the absence of Foakes. His ability to thunder away with the bat, as seen during his 2019 season with Gloucs, might very well tip him that place.
What are some of his cool facts?
Let’s kick-start the statistics section with a cool fact. In 2019, Bracey in an interview with Gloucs admitted that his favourite cricketer is Kumar Sangakkara - talk about class. This county season, Bracey is right up there as one of the best wicket-keepers in the country, with 20 dismissals, averaging four catches per innings. A die-hard fan of the Bristol Rovers, Bracey made his real impact in the intra-squad warm-up in June 2020, scoring an 85.
Apart from the usual runs, dismissals and stuff, the young Gloucs star already has shown tremendous patience in his career, with a seven-and-a-half hour battle against Glamorgan at Bristol, where he scored a 120 and a five-and-a-half-hour battle against Middlesex for his 125. While he couldn’t save the game against Glamorgan, he was successful against Middlesex, and that plus 479 runs later, Bracey has found himself in the English set-up.