Chris Waters: Bairstow’s Test call-up is early but thoroughly deserved

DURING an idle moment in Bristol last week, while the players of Yorkshire and Gloucestershire waited around for a break in the clouds, I had a quiet word with the Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale.

I asked him about Jonny Bairstow, and how long he thought it might be before his Yorkshire team-mate played Test cricket.

“I think he could play Test cricket before the year is out,” said Gale. “He’s already got two hundreds for us this season, and I’m sure the selectors are looking at him closely.

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“It will probably come first as a batsman because Matt Prior is the best in the world at the moment with the gloves and the bat, so it will be hard, in the short term, for Jonny to push him out of his place. But Jonny is the full package for me, and I don’t think it will be long before we see him in that Test side.”

As we stood chatting in the shelter of teeming rain, prior to the sunshine of a glorious victory, neither Gale nor anyone else could have predicted just how quickly the call-up would come.

For Bairstow will be playing Test cricket not just before the year is out, but, following a thigh injury to Ravi Bopara, which has ruled the Essex batsman out of Thursday’s first Test against West Indies at Lord’s, almost certainly before the week is out, with Bairstow expected to bat No 6 after he was yesterday named in a 13-man squad.

They say one man’s pain is another man’s gain but it is English cricket that will see the most benefit.

For although Bopara is a quality batsman, a man whose star burns bright in the firmament, Bairstow possesses a transcendent talent – one that can illuminate the international stage for more than a decade.

Of course, as readers of these ramblings will know, I have long harped on about Bairstow being good enough for the Test match stage. Why, I have probably bored you to tears by stating he is the best young batsman I have seen in county cricket since the emergence of Kevin Pietersen, whose early seasons I was privileged to cover for a newspaper in Nottingham.

Yet it was no parochial prattle on my behalf, no biased blathering of a regional correspondent who knows which side his bread is buttered.

It was the simple truth, nothing more, and although Bairstow and Pietersen have different styles, there has always struck me a similarity in the way they butcher bowling with some of the cleanest hitting you could wish to see.

It is not just Bairstow’s clean striking, however, that has earned him his maiden call-up ahead of the not inconsiderable claims of James Taylor, the Nottinghamshire batsman.

Indeed, through conversations with various people connected to the England set-up, there is no doubt in my mind that it is Bairstow’s talent for reading and adapting to match situations that has also struck a chord with the selectors. In short, England believe he is “a game player” – someone who can adjust his own method according to the state of the match and what his team most needs.

It is a vital skill in any team sport, to sense a situation and act accordingly, but it is not a skill that everyone has.

When chatting to Gale in Bristol, the captain also offered an insight into Bairstow’s development as a character. Gale spoke of his colleague’s increasing wisdom and willingness to offer help and advice.

“I’ve seen him mature a lot this season,” said Gale. “He’s a lot more confident in himself and a vital part of the dressing room.

“Jonny comes up to me quite often now and recommends stuff, which you would never have seen before, and his education in the game has improved and he’s starting to realise what it’s all about. He helps me a lot as captain, particularly with his angles behind the stumps because he can see what’s going on, and it’s key to have a good wicketkeeper like that.

“Maybe in the past Jonny was more worried about his own game because he’s a young keeper, which is entirely understandable, but now he’s helping me a lot more with the insights he’s able to give.”

Barring an 11th-hour injury to Prior, Bairstow will not keep wicket at Lord’s, but he is very much a genuine all-rounder.

His keeping has come on leaps and bounds – to the extent one cannot readily recall the last time he put a glove wrong. Bairstow also offers vibrancy, a natural exuberance that rubs off on team-mates. “The energy Jonny gives us is one of the key things about our side,” added Gale. “We’ve struggled for voices in the field the last couple of years. Jonny brings a massive amount of energy.”

Providence may have played its part in Bairstow’s maiden Test call-up but no one should doubt it is not richly deserved.

For this is a young man going places – as Test match cricket should soon discover.

Life and times of Jonny Bairstow

Born: September 26, 1989.

Birthplace: Bradford.

Role: Right-hand batsman, wicketkeeper.

First-class career: Matches 51, Innings 88, Not Outs 17, Runs 3,296, Average 46.42, Highest score 205*, 100s 5, 50s 23; Catches 111, Stumpings 5.

List A career: Matches 47, Innings 42, Not Outs 5, Runs 992, Average 26.81, Highest score 114, 100s 1, 50s 4; Catches 30, Stumpings 3.

T20 career: Matches 38, Innings 32, Not Outs 7, Runs 518, Average 20.72, Highest score 60*; 50s 1; Catches 14, Stumpings 4.

One-day international career: Matches 6, Innings 5, Not Outs 1, Runs 90, Average 22.50, Highest score 41*; Catches 3.

T20 international career: Matches 6, Innings 5, Not Outs 3, Runs 91, Average 45.50, Highest score 60*, 50s 1; Catches 6.