Chris Waters: Joe Root must step up and take one for the team

England's Joe Root celebrates scoring a century during the third day of the second testmatch between Sri Lanka and England in Pallekele. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
England's Joe Root celebrates scoring a century during the third day of the second testmatch between Sri Lanka and England in Pallekele. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
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LIFE would be so much easier if we had not had the vote on Europe and if Joe Root fancied batting at No 3.

The conclusion seems unavoidable as Brexit rumbles on in interminable style and as England look to sort out this perennial problem in their batting order.

The latest man to drink from the poisoned chalice needs no introduction.

His name is Jonny Bairstow, and the Yorkshireman will be the fourth man to bat at No 3 in as many innings after Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes and Keaton Jennings (the latter due to the use of a nightwatchman) in the third and final Test match against Sri Lanka in Colombo starting on Friday.

First and foremost, it is good to see Bairstow back in the team.

It is difficult to think of another instance in any sport in which a recognised No 1 has suddenly lost that status in the space of a few days through no fault of his own or under-performance.

England's captain Joe Root (right) talks to head coach Trevor Bayliss during the nets session at Lord's, London.

England's captain Joe Root (right) talks to head coach Trevor Bayliss during the nets session at Lord's, London.

But, after injury ruled him out of the first Test in Galle, where replacement batsman/wicketkeeper Ben Foakes scored a hundred and kept well, Bairstow was not picked for the second game in Kandy and only returns now because all-rounder Sam Curran has a side injury.

The other change to the side, which sees Stuart Broad replace the rested James Anderson, has the feel of a “Test matches for the boys” selection, with England – holding an unassailable 2-0 lead, remember – passing up a gilt-edged opportunity to hand a debut to fellow pace bowler Olly Stone, who may not have received much help from the pitch but who would surely have benefited greatly from the experience.

Recalling Broad was the easy option – as is avoiding the very obvious solution to the No 3 dilemma.

The man who should surely be batting there is captain Joe Root, primarily because he is the best person for the job and also because there is no other standout candidate.

The man who should surely be batting there is captain Joe Root, primarily because he is the best person for the job and also because there is no other standout candidate.

Chris Waters

Bairstow may well make a success of the role; he has proved his versatility by opening the batting in one-day cricket, and by batting from No 4 to No 8 in the five-day game.

But that is not the point.

Few would seriously suggest that Bairstow is a more natural Test No 3 than Root; if anything, their roles should be reversed, with Root at No 3 and Bairstow at No 4.

None of which will be news to head coach Trevor Bayliss, who also feels that Root should bat at No 3.

Bayliss got his way during much of 2016, only for Root’s elevation to the captaincy the following year resulting in a move back down to No 4.

At the start of last summer, Root moved up to No 3 again, saying that he was ready to “take on a bit more responsibility” after a year spent adjusting to the twin demands of captaincy and batting.

But, by September, he was back down to No 4, insisting that “ultimately I did it for the good of the team, and to try and get the best out of myself”.

In a nutshell, Root does not want to bat at No 3 any more than so-called “remainers” want out of Europe, a situation that is causing a knock-on effect.

On the one hand, this is fair enough; individual preferences are precisely that, and the 
statistics show that Root averages 40.47 at No 3 and 52.16 at No 4 
(his overall career average is 50.82).

Yet this is one of the finest players in the world, one of the finest players of any era, and the man best suited technically and temperamentally to the task from the current England crop.

Ideally, Root would bat at No 4 for as long as he wished, but Bairstow’s natural game, for example, is much more suited to that position, or perhaps a shade lower, giving him the freedom to express himself in a manner that few players can in the modern game.

Better still, some would say, Bairstow should be keeping wicket, with Foakes having proved himself only against lesser opposition, with no evidence at this stage that he is a superior batsman/keeper to Bairstow.

Unless Foakes is being picked as a specialist keeper, an outmoded concept, it is difficult to see how he has suddenly usurped Bairstow in the batsman/keeper role based on such little evidence; if keeping was the main criteria for selection, then James Foster and Chris Read would have played many more Tests.