Interview with James Foster
25th January by Guy Horchover
In the first of a programme of interviews with well-known sports stars, I spoke with James Foster, the highly regarded Batsman/Wicketkeeper about his beginnings in sport, his experiences and what his plans for the future are, given that he is now 37 years old. From the feedback I have heard about him from his peers, he is still at the top of his game and shouldn’t be thinking about retiring just yet!
How did you start out in sport? “Sport was something I always enjoyed and was part of my life. My parents were members of Woodford Wells Sports Club and I tried most sports. School sport was also important and I am now coaching at Forest, the school I attended”. That is certainly a way of giving something back to your sport.
I asked if there were any inspirational figures that he came across as he was developing his sport skills. Foster was quickly able to name three. “My school Head of Cricket was Stuart Turner, the Essex Player and a great coach; Joe Hussain (Nasser’s Dad) at the Ilford Indoor School and Graham Fowler, the coach at Durham University, who helped me through, juggling England duties and my studies.” I sensed there was true inspiration from these relationships, not just from the playing perspective but also for the next stage of James’ career which looks set in the direction of coaching.
Was Foster always going to be Cricketer? “No, when I was younger I always thought I was going to be a professional tennis player, though I was always playing cricket and hockey at the same time. It was only later that I decided I liked the team aspects and decided to focus on cricket. It’s important to play different sports. The movement that I learned through tennis when playing a shot, I have been able to transfer to my batting for example. If you only ever play cricket you might miss out on some aspects of mobility that different sports teach you.”
“Also by playing a range of sports, if one wasn’t going so well you could always focus on another, so I was never really bothered by form in one game. I started playing cricket at Under 10 level and worked my way through to Under 16’s at Essex. From there I made it into Essex Under 19’s.” Being a bit harsh on himself saying, “as there weren’t any other keepers around at the time!”, from there Foster was contracted at the age of 19 to Essex and went off to Durham University where within 2 years he was called up to the full England team. This is where Graham Fowler played his part coaching and also liaising with the University to keep James on the Sports Science course and extending the time period of study from three years to four and a half; a great result for all parties, and one which should put Foster on a good path once his cricket days are finished.
I had to ask who he felt demonstrated the most ‘cool’ in match situations and within a nano-second James replied, “Andy Flower of Zimbabwe, Essex and also for a time England Head Coach. He was as cool as they come; a middle order batsman to win matches, he would work the gaps. He and his brother, Grant Flower, in the middle order in tight games, they could deal with the pressure and maintain a high run rate without panic.”
Following that, I asked if it’s a great feeling batting and running a score down? “Yes, it is a great feeling”, came the reply. Foster went on, “It’s great to have confidence in your own game. Batting allows you to win a game, whereas with wicket keeping you can only react to the opportunities that come your way’.
As a follow up I asked, “Do you prefer batting then?”, to which the reply from Foster was, “No, I enjoy both aspects of the game equally. I took a stumping off the bowling of Graham Napier which came through the batter’s legs once, and a catch standing up to the wicket of a full toss!” These are no mean feats and must give a huge amount of satisfaction that all that practice pays off, when the opportunities present themselves; real self-expression.
I noticed that Foster had one bowling wicket to his credit. “Yes, that was in a declaration match. I always wanted to have a bowl and I got my chance; and I got a wicket as I was being hit to midwicket.”
What was your best match? “Obviously getting your first cap is a big moment but in 2008, Essex won the One Day Final at Lord’s, the home of cricket. It was a great day as it was a chance to achieve success with your team mates, people that you had worked all season long with – exactly for that goal; a great, great feeling.”
There have been disappointments on the way. A broken arm in practice just before the Ashes tour meant Foster was unable to really achieve the number of caps his talent warranted. By the time he recovered, Alex Stewart was in ‘pole position’. After which he was always waiting in the wings. However, Foster is such a positive person that this disappointment has been channelled to make him even better as a player and set the goal of being a great coach.
Sporting careers come to an end and at the age of 37, with a year left on his contract, coaching beckons. Foster’s attitude is, “I need things set up so that I’m not guessing about my future. I have run masterclasses, holiday camps, and am coaching now with Scotland (he is currently in Dubai at a tournament) and Foresters School (where it all started).” If he can tie all this in with taking an MBA and enjoying being with his family – he and his wife have three girls aged 4, 2 and 1 – he will; and I would not bet against him achieving that.
Foster’s advice to his younger-self would be, “Do something you enjoy, you are lucky to play sport: work hard all the way through your career, don’t ever take it all for granted if you want to be in the game for a long time.” He went on. “Learn from advice, but work out what is good advice; trust your gut feel. The Professional Cricketers Association (PCA) are always telling us to think about life after cricket. The playing experience is great but give yourself options for afterwards and time to prepare. At one point I didn’t believe I would ever retire!” Good advice to anyone.
To sum up Foster stated, “There have been ups and downs; I have dealt with pressure situations but playing cricket is fun.” Long may that continue to be so. Until then I would like to wish James Foster all the very best for this season and all the best with his ventures; I really enjoyed my conversation with him.
James Foster was in conversation with Guy Horchover from ProSport Insurance, an Official Provider of Home and Motor Insurance to the PCA.
Grant Bradburn (Scotland Cricket Coach) with James Foster