Bairstow welcomes challenge to claim his place

Jonny Bairstow relishes the competition for places in England’s limited-overs teams even though he has currently lost his most obvious claim for inclusion to Jos Buttler.

England's Jonny Bairstow
England's Jonny Bairstow

Bairstow, 23, and Buttler, 22, may well find themselves jockeying for the wicketkeeper-batsman’s position for many years to come.

At present, though, it is the slightly younger protagonist from Somerset who has the gloves.

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Buttler usurped Yorkshire’s Bairstow in his country’s penultimate Twenty20 match of 2012 in Pune.

Then with the Yorkshireman back at home early for Christmas and during England’s return to India for five one-day internationals – because of a family illness – Buttler also moved ahead of his misfiring county team-mate Craig Kieswetter.

New limited-overs coach Ashley Giles handed the job to Buttler too in the warm-up campaign for England’s ongoing Twenty20 series in New Zealand – and so it was that he kept wicket in Saturday’s opening victory against the hosts in Auckland.

Buttler was due to do so again in Hamilton this morning, where a second victory would wrap up the three-match series early for Stuart Broad’s team.

Bairstow currently commands a place anyway as a batsman in the Twenty20 team in the absence of the still rested Kevin Pietersen et al.

But when Pietersen, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell all arrive this week for the start of a three-match ODI series, he may well find himself on the outside looking in.

Bairstow is one of only five players included in all three squads here – for Tests as well as the shorter formats – but in each, he appears to be second-choice wicketkeeper.

Leapfrogging Buttler behind the stumps still appears a more feasible way back into the ODI reckoning than ousting a clutch of established middle-order batsmen – not to mention his emerging county team-mate Joe Root.

But Bairstow does not necessarily subscribe to that simple theory and is enthused rather than frustrated by the battle to represent his country.

“There’s no easy way into the side at all,” he said.

“Everyone is jostling for positions left, right and centre – whether that be batting, bowling, spin department or wicketkeeping. We know the strength and depth we’ve got within the squad is a very good place to be.”

Giles’s decision to opt for Buttler last week was a surprise to some with his rival available again.

But Bairstow said: “There’s naturally going to be competition for places.

“Jos has got the gloves at the moment and I’ll keep working hard – like I have been every training session to do my best if the opportunity arises to step in and try to take that chance,

“I’m working hard on my keeping every day.”

Bairstow had to stay at home while England were in India, but has returned refreshed and with much to play for at the start of this 12 months of back-to-back Ashes and a Champions Trophy on home turf.

“It’s only been six weeks, not months and months and months,” he said of his absence.

“But it’s great to have recharged the batteries, the last four weeks I was at home, and come back really fresh.

“It’s fantastic – the energy everyone brings and the youthful enthusiasm. It’s a great dressing-room to be around and everyone is really enjoying each other’s company – and we’re pleased with the brand of cricket we’re playing.”

England, and Bairstow, began well as they outplayed New Zealand at the weekend, targeting the short straight boundaries at Eden Park on their way to a record 
214-7 and then restricting their hosts with some impressive, intelligent bowling.

“We weren’t too sure what the par score was there,” he added, having hit 38 from 22 balls himself.

“It was obviously a good pitch and the way everyone contributed with the bat was very pleasing.

“We were pleased with the way we batted, bowled and fielded.”

England know, however, that New Zealand – with their battery of clean and powerful strikers – are especially tough opponents in the sprint format.

Tactics will need to be slightly refined at Seddon Park, where once again the boundaries are small but not to the degree – especially straight – they were in Auckland.

“The challenge is to do it all again. We’re sure New Zealand will come back very strong,” said Bairstow. “They’ve got some very dangerous players.”

One of them is Colin Munro, who hit three of New Zealand’s eight sixes in the series opener and will once again be a major threat.

The left-hander is determined to be part of a much-improved performance today.

“Obviously Saturday was disappointing – we weren’t up to scratch,” said Munro. “We had plans to drop a little bit shorter and let them hit to the bigger boundary.

“But we were quite full and floaty so we played into England’s hands to hit the short boundaries. Our lengths weren’t right and dropping five catches didn’t help.

“That’s not going to happen again.”