BEN Foakes is a man on a mission - to make the most of an opportunity he never thought would come his way.

The 25-year-old, from Kirby-le-Soken, achieved a lifelong ambition when making his Test debut during England's recent tour of Sri Lanka.

To say it went well would be an understatement.

He was named man-of-the-series after plundering 277 runs - more than anyone else - and his maiden Test century (107) in the opening Test was pivotal in ensuring England got on top in Galle.

In addition, Colchester-born Foakes claimed ten dismissals behind the stumps.

Now the former Tendring Technology College student is ready for his next challenge, as part of an unchanged 16-man Test squad for England's upcoming tour of the West Indies.

He is understandably proud of his achievements and looking forward to the next chapter of his international career - but determined to keep his feet firmly planted on the ground.

“I’m very excited and can’t wait to get started," said Foakes, speaking to the Gazette from the squad hotel near Gatwick Airport, the day before flying out to the Caribbean.

“It’s a good time of year to be going out there and leaving behind the freezing English weather.

“There’s been a lot of preparation and anticipation and it’ll just be nice to get out there, in the sunshine, and play some cricket.

"I've had some time off and hopefully I can carry on where I left off, in Sri Lanka.

“Everything happened so quickly out there, in such a blur.

“One minute I was having a break from cricket – I hadn’t picked up a bat for a month – and the next I was on a plane to Galle (having been drafted into the squad at the 11th hour, following an injury to wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow).

“There was a lot to sort out in a short amount of time but it was a brilliant moment for me, because I genuinely thought my chance had gone.

“When (fellow wicketkeeper) Joss (Buttler) came back from his injury, I thought ‘teams don’t need three keepers’. Especially when the other two are so unbelievably talented.

“But it’s amazing how quickly things change and it just shows that anything can happen.

“I didn’t think I’d ever get this opportunity, despite having dedicated my whole career to getting to this stage. This is what I’ve always aspired to.

“It meant that when the call came, having been on a break, I was mentally fresh and ready to go.

“But the flip side was that I felt underprepared cricket-wise and was worried about rustiness.

“Thankfully, I needn’t have worried."

Foakes' every move was avidly followed by the eyes of the cricketing world.

And nowhere was that burning sense of pride and passion more keenly felt than at Frinton Cricket Club's Ashlyns Road.

Foakes learnt his trade at the club, starting playing when he was just six, and has since gone from strength to strength with Essex, Surrey and now England.

Amazingly, he was still playing for Frinton as recently as 2014, when he played a starring role in helping the club achieve promotion from the Marshall Hatchick Two Counties Championship into the Gibbs Denley East Anglian Premier League.

“When I was out there I was purely focused on my cricket," he said.

“In the moment, out on the pitch, you’re just concentrating so hard on every single ball – either hitting it or catching it, depending whether we’re batting or fielding.

“But I was amazed at the way everything took off (in terms of the attention) and how much it meant to people.

“I hadn’t really thought about the impact it would have and it was only afterwards that I was able to sit back and realise how special it had been, to achieve my dreams.

“It was also lovely to hear how proud everyone was back home in Frinton.

“It took me by surprise, to be honest, when I heard people had been staying up all night to watch in the clubhouse.

“My mum told me lots of people were talking about me and calling round with newspaper cuttings.

“It’s lovely that everyone has been so supportive and it was especially good to catch up with Stubbsy (Frinton coach Tony Stubbs) over Christmas.

“He’s such a good man and he was a massive part of my development, going through the different age groups.

“I’ll always have so much respect for him and be grateful for everything he’s done for me."

Having effectively been thrust into the limelight, Foakes, who also had spells with Clacton and Colchester and East Essex, could have been forgiven for feeling a little starstruck, suddenly rubbing shoulders with household names like Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jimmy Anderson.

Far from it and he only has positive things to stay about the group he is now part of.

“I knew most of the boys anyway and it’s a pretty small bubble, when you’re playing on the County Championship circuit," he said.

“I also spent time with them on the last Ashes tour (Foakes was picked for 2017-18 trip Down Under but did not feature) and, prior to that, with the Lions.

“I’ve got to know them well and they’re great guys.

“They’re very normal and it’s just like being in any other dressing room.

“Although there’s pressure because of the level we’re at, it’s a pretty relaxed environment.

“Everyone gets on and that’s really helped me to feel settled.

“We know that outside of our bubble there’s a lot of attention and hype because it’s England. We’re in the spotlight.

“But within the group, in our environment, it’s just like being with any other bunch of blokes, be it Frinton, Surrey or England.

“All of the boys are very humble and down to earth and if you didn’t know anything about cricket, you’d never guess they were England players."

England are now preparing for a hugely significant 2019.

First up is their tour of the Caribbean, with Root's side playing the Windies in Barbados (January 23 to 27), Antigua (January 31 to February 4) and St Lucia (February 9 to 13), before rounding off the tour with five one-day internationals and three T20Is.

They also host the World Cup this summer - starting as one of the hot favourites - before returning for an eagerly-anticipated home Ashes series against Australia.

“It’s a massive year for English cricket. As big as it gets," said Foakes.

“I’m excited, like everyone else, but not looking too far ahead.

“Like I said earlier, I didn’t think I’d ever get to play for England.

“It was only freak circumstances that led to my opportunity so now it’s come along I’m going to enjoy every minute, without getting ahead of myself.

“I’m never going to look beyond the next challenge – the next match – and for now that means doing well in the West Indies.

“If I start looking too far ahead it will only become a distraction."