THE idea of Jonny Bairstow losing the wicketkeeping gloves and even his place in the England Test team is so ridiculous that it is what the Australians might call “elite stupidity”.
To simply discard arguably the world’s best wicketkeeper/batsman after one outstanding performance from rival Ben Foakes? And yet that is the call going up in certain quarters ahead of Wednesday’s second Test against Sri Lanka in Kandy.
Whether Bairstow will be fit to play in that game, after an ankle injury ruled him out of the first Test in Galle, is unclear.
The Yorkshireman took part in practice yesterday and refereed the habitual kickabout rather than risk additional damage.
But if Bairstow is fit, it should be a no-brainer that he is a) selected and b) keeps wicket.
In extreme cases, there are even those, you sense, who simply cannot wait to take the gloves off Bairstow, indeed who have been secretly waiting for this chance to come along.Chris Waters
Surely he has built up enough credit not to be stripped of either his place in the side or the wicketkeeping role that he holds so dear?
However, everywhere you look, or so it seems, there are wise men proffering different opinions. Michael Atherton believes that past glories should not mean an automatic recall for the player, while Nasser Hussain feels that Foakes must be given a run as wicketkeeper and that Bairstow could play as a specialist batsman.
Although Bairstow could indeed play as a specialist batsman, the logic here is surely awry, for Foakes was not selected as an out-and-out wicketkeeper, but as a wicketkeeper/batsman, and there is no evidence at this stage that he is better than Bairstow in that respect.
Whether Foakes is the superior wicketkeeper (and no less a judge than Alec Stewart believes that he is the best gloveman on the planet) is largely irrelevant. The days of wicketkeepers being chosen purely on their wicketkeeping ability are as outdated as hansom cabs and half-decent pop songs.
In extreme cases, there are even those, you sense, who simply cannot wait to take the gloves off Bairstow, indeed who have been secretly waiting for this chance to come along.
They seem to relish this thought with the same zeal with which some religions relish the thought of Armageddon and a better life beyond our poor vale of tears. But although Foakes clearly deserves to keep his place, he should play as a batsman – and strive to consistently prove himself as a batsman – before Bairstow is casually brushed aside.
One Test hundred does not make a summer, and we need to see more of Foakes with the bat before making what would be a huge call to take the gloves off Bairstow who, lest we forget, is one of the world’s best batsmen and who has barely put a foot wrong behind the stumps for quite some time.
To use a footballing comparison, can you imagine what would happen if Callum Wilson, the highly-rated Bournemouth striker, seized his chance in the forthcoming matches against USA and Croatia? If Wilson scored a couple of hat-tricks, for example, would he suddenly leapfrog Harry Kane to become our No.1 centre forward, or would Kane have sufficient credit in the bank to retain that status?
The question is rhetorical, for we all know the answer, yet different rules appear to apply to Bairstow.
Indeed, how can a man not even selected for the original tour become England’s No.1 wicketkeeper/batsman in the space of four days? Although Foakes is clearly an outstanding talent, the fact is that he has made one hundred against a Sri Lanka side in disarray.
Consider the facts… Sri Lanka’s captain, Dinesh Chandimal, is now out for the series with a groin tear; their promising young spinner, Akila Dananjaya, has been cited for having a suspicious bowling action; their team manager, Charith Senanayake, resigned on Sunday for personal reasons; their former captain, Angelo Mathews, is disgruntlement personified having been sacked as one-day captain and publicly humiliated for being overweight; their leading wicket-taker and most experienced player, Rangana Herath, retired after Galle, while their country’s board is in crisis and being run by an emergency committee as allegations of widespread corruption encircle their cricket.
In short, this is not the Sri Lanka of yore or anything resembling a fully functioning ship, and far sterner tests await Foakes, captain Joe Root and his England team.
Can Foakes deliver when it really counts, against the Australians in the pressure cooker of an Ashes series?
Perhaps. The difference in Bairstow’s case, though, is that there is no “perhaps” about it. He is one of our finest cricketers and deserves greater backing.