YORKSHIRE captain Andrew Gale believes Jonny Bairstow is a much better player than when he last represented England at Test level and is backing him to shine in the Ashes if given the opportunity.
Bairstow made the last of his 14 Test appearances in the final game of the 2013-14 Ashes series in Sydney.
His record stands at 593 Test runs at an average of 26 – figures that saw him written off by several pundits and former players.
But Bairstow has bounced back with a bang this season, scoring 744 runs in nine Championship innings at 106.28, and is widely considered to be next in line for an England place.
Gale, who has watched him grow from strength to strength, said: “I think he’s ready to play Test cricket again.
“He’s in the form of his life and, for me, his batting is good enough for him to play simply as a batter.
“For me, Jonny is ready to play in the Ashes if given the opportunity.
“There’s always someone who drops out of form, or someone who picks up an injury, and if they do pick Jonny, I just hope they play him in his preferred position in the middle order.”
Bairstow, 25, is not so much knocking on the door as wrenching it from its hinges.
Since returning from England’s Test tour of the West Indies, when he was deemed surplus to requirements, he has produced successive scores of 102, 59, 50, 66, 125*, 0, 15, 219* and 108.
On current form, there is no doubt that he deserves to be in the England team for tomorrow’s first Test against Australia in Cardiff.
But the selectors have stayed loyal to the struggling Ian Bell and Gary Ballance, while Jos Buttler – England’s first-choice wicketkeeper – has done nothing to warrant deselection.
“It’s difficult for the selectors at the moment,” said Gale.
“To be honest, I wouldn’t put Jonny in now because I don’t think anyone’s really done anything wrong to be left out.
“However, usually after two or three Tests you get a feel of who’s in form and who’s out of nick, and Jonny’s obviously in brilliant form.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if he featured at some stage.”
When he first played Test cricket in 2012, Bairstow was perceived as having a problem with the short ball.
Gale believes that criticism was unfair and says Bairstow has worked hard to improve his technique.
“His technique is a lot tighter than it was last year,” said Gale. “He’s got a higher back-lift now and he looks a lot stronger at the crease.
“Because of that, he is judging length a lot better and he’s not getting bowled as much these days.
“At the moment, he looks like he’s batting on a different pitch to everyone else and has scored four hundreds already this summer.
“People have talked about the short ball issue in the past, but, personally, I never saw that as an issue.
“If you get out the same way a couple of times, people invariably say that you’ve got an issue – but I don’t think he did.
“He did have a bit of an issue with full-length balls that he was getting bowled with, but he’s adapted his technique.
“He’s worked really hard to improve his game.”
Gale has also detected growing maturity from Bairstow as a player and as a person. Sometimes, it can be hard for those thrust into the international spotlight at a young age – particularly if they are quickly discarded.
“Jonny is much more mature now,” said Gale.
“Sometimes, when young players get a sniff of the England environment, they look too far ahead.
“He’s gone through all that and he’s forgotten about that now.
“He knows that if he does well for us that a call-up will happen naturally, and he’s got that bit between his teeth.”
Another Yorkshireman unfortunate not to be involved in the first Ashes Test is Liam Plunkett, who suffered a thigh injury during the recent one-day series against New Zealand.
The pace bowler has been working hard on his fitness and will test out the injury for the Yorkshire second XI on Thursday.
“He’s playing on Thursday for the seconds and he could play on Friday night for us in the T20 against Durham, but I think that game might come a bit too soon for him,” said Gale.
“If he comes through on Thursday, he could play on Sunday in the T20 against Derbyshire, and we’ll hopefully have him back for our next Championship match at Scarborough.
“I just hope the scenario doesn’t come up that England lose that first Test and Starc and Johnson take all the wickets for Australia, and the media start saying that England need some extra pace.
“There’s not many guys in the country who can bowl 90mph like Liam, and we’ve missed him massively.”
Yorkshire at Warwickshire – day two report: Page 18.