JASON GILLESPIE is urging England to keep faith with Jonny Bairstow and believes the Yorkshire star should be given first crack as Test wicketkeeper under the new coaching regime.
England kicked off their home international season last night under new coach Peter Moores with a defeat in a Twenty20 game against Sri Lanka at The Oval.
With the first Test against Sri Lanka at Lord’s on June 12 fast approaching, and with strong competition for the wicketkeeping gloves, Gillespie said Bairstow should keep his spot.
The 24-year-old is the current incumbent having played the last two games of the ill-fated Ashes tour, but the Yorkshire first-team coach has nailed his colours to the mast amid calls in some quarters that England should go back to former gloveman Matt Prior –or look elsewhere.
“Look, the way I see it, it’s pretty black-and-white,” said Gillespie.
“Jonny is the current Test keeper – simple.
“Explain to me what anyone else has done to allow them to not pick him? That’s where I stand.
“All things being equal, Jonny should be afforded that opportunity (to keep his place).”
Gillespie believes Bairstow can perform a key role for England at No 7. The Bradford-born player has a first-class batting average of 42, and he is a destructive talent in all forms of the game.
“Jonny could be a very dynamic player coming in at No 7 for England; that could be a role for him,” said Gillespie. “He is a naturally aggressive batsman in any situation and will always look to take the positive option.
“For me, England are on an absolute winner with him coming in at No 7; that’s as good as it gets really. To have someone as devastating as that who can turn games so quickly is a massive bonus.”
Bairstow has made a splendid start to the season. He scored 123 in Yorkshire’s opening first-class match against Leeds-Bradford MCCU and was typically tidy behind the timbers.
A broken finger in a practice game at Northampton ruled him out of the first three County Championship fixtures against Somerset, Northamptonshire and Middlesex. But after playing as a batsman only in the Championship match at Durham, where he scored a fluent 95, Bairstow reclaimed the gloves for last week’s game against Warwickshire.
“Jonny is improving all the time,” said Gillespie.
“His glovework is improving and you saw those improvements during the winter.
“I think at this point in time the England selectors feel his best way into the Test side is as a wicketkeeper-batsman, but we all know what he can do with the bat.
“He scored a great 90-odd against South Africa at Lord’s a couple of years ago.”
England have not yet seen the best of Bairstow and they have not always handled him well either. He has been ferried around as a drinks waiter and had long periods without any cricket, which is hardly conducive to a young player’s development.
But he has remained positive on-and-off the field and looks primed to flourish under Moores and new England assistant coach Paul Farbrace, whom he knows well from Farbrace’s time at Yorkshire.
Indeed, there is no reason why Bairstow should not add significantly to his tally of 14 Test, seven one-day international and 18 Twenty20 international appearances in the years to come.
“I suppose where I really feel for Jonny is that he’s been travelling so much with the England side in the last 18 months/couple of years that he hasn’t played for periods of time,” said Gillespie.
“He didn’t take part in the Champions Trophy last summer, and he wasn’t able to leave the squad to go and play county cricket.
“He essentially had a month where he didn’t pick up a bat in a competitive game or get to keep wicket. He has carried the drinks.”
Bairstow knows he faces stiff competition from such as Prior, who hopes to return to action for Sussex next week after an Achilles injury.
Whether Prior can prove his fitness for the first Test remains to be seen, but Andrew Hodd, Bairstow’s understudy at Yorkshire and Prior’s former team-mate at Sussex, believes the Yorkshireman has done nothing wrong.
“If there is a clean slate for England, Bluey should be next in line,” said Hodd. “Every time he’s come in he’s done pretty well, or it’s been in a stinking situation, so it’s difficult to judge someone on, say, two games in the Ashes this winter coming into a team that’s already lost.
“Everyone knows what Bluey can do; he’s a fantastic striker of the ball and he’s a good ‘keeper. His keeping is getting better and better.”
Hodd top-scored with 62 as Yorkshire beat Harrogate CC by 80 runs last night in a T20 practice match. Yorkshire made 189-7 from their 20 overs, Adam Lyth hitting 38 and Liam Plunkett 37, with Tom Geeson-Brown taking 5-43. Rich Pyrah claimed 4-22 in the home team’s reply of 109-8.