JONNY BAIRSTOW is the most exciting batsman to emerge in English cricket since Kevin Pietersen.
Why, then, has he been left out of the squad for the forthcoming Test series against Pakistan?
Just as the selectors deserved praise for giving Bairstow his one-day international debut last summer, so they deserve criticism now for their decision to leave him at home.
The three-Test series in the Middle East, followed by four one-day internationals and three Twenty20 games, represented the perfect opportunity to give the Yorkshireman a place on tour.
As with Pietersen’s arrival on the scene in the early part of the last decade, there seems a reluctance to wake up and smell the coffee regarding Bairstow.
Sure, he is well-regarded by the England selectors, as evidenced by their decision to hand him his international debut last season.
But having watched him win a one-day game off his own bat when he stunned India with an innings of 41 not out from 21 balls at Cardiff, why have they passed up this golden chance to take another look?
Granted, Bairstow did not have the best of times during the one-day tour of India that followed, but, then again, which England player did?
When Pietersen burst on the international scene in 2004-05, he announced himself with three one-day international hundreds in quick succession against his native South Africa.
Yet when it came to formulating the side for the first Test of the 2005 Ashes summer, he was conspicuous by his absence.
England opted instead for veteran campaigner Graham Thorpe for the preceding two-Test series against Bangladesh.
Although good sense ultimately prevailed, it was only the further nudge of one-day innings against Australia of 91 not out at Bristol and 74 at The Oval that earned Pietersen his place in the first Ashes Test.
The situation with Bairstow is less cut and dried, for he did not have Pietersen’s weight of runs behind him internationally or at county level when it came to picking the squad for next month’s series.
But the parallels between them are striking enough.
Might it be there is a reluctance among the England hierarchy to take a risk, a play-it-safe mentality that cuts to the core of the English game?
It would certainly explain why Pietersen was not an immediate choice for the 2005 Ashes.
Just as it was obvious to anyone who watched Pietersen play for Nottinghamshire in those early years that he was a cut above other batsmen on the county circuit, so it is clear that Bairstow is a man of exceptional talent.
Indeed, this correspondent would not have had the slightest qualm about him being chosen as a first-choice player for the Pakistan Tests – not simply as a squad member taken along for the experience.
Instead, England opted to give Ravi Bopara another opportunity – an excellent batsman, undoubtedly, but not a player in Bairstow’s class.
Furthermore, the selection of Steve Davies as reserve wicketkeeper to Matt Prior was baffling; indeed, if one had a direct choice between Bairstow and Davies as a wicketkeeper who can bat, there would only be one winner in my view – and it would not be Davies.
England’s rise to world No 1 has been made on the back of a settled side, a formidable bowling unit and inspired leadership from captain Andrew Strauss and team director Andy Flower.
But there is no room for complacency – not only in terms of performance, but also selection.
When a player like Bairstow comes along, he should be given an opportunity to stake a claim, not kept in the wings to bide his time.
At 22, he is just the right age to be blooded in Tests and could easily play as a specialist batsman.
The case for Bopara is not compelling.
The Essex man played in the final two Tests of the summer, scoring an unbeaten 44 in the last match at The Oval. It lifted his Test aggregate to 553 runs at 34.56.
However, if you take out three hundreds against an ordinary West Indies side, Bopara averages just 15 in Test cricket from 13 completed innings.
There is no justification for picking him ahead of Bairstow.
Not only is the Yorkshireman the better prospect with the bat, he can fill in behind the stumps if necessary.
He is also a better player, in my opinion, than Eoin Morgan, the talented Irishman who is also in the Test squad.
In an ideal world, I believe England should be basing their Test hopes around the following side: Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Bairstow, Prior, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and James Anderson.
That is the XI I would like to have seen take on Pakistan.
If a second spinner was required, with Monty Panesar chosen as Swann’s understudy, then you could play five specialist batsmen and move Prior up to No 6.
But England’s preferred option – three seamers and a spinner – creates a perfect chance for someone like Bairstow.
Of course, Bairstow has the advantage of time being on his side.
His day in Test cricket will come sooner rather than later.
But the reluctance of England to blood him is unduly cautious.
If you have got a trump card, it makes sense to play it.