Chris Waters: The Ashes - Time is ripe to unleash Jonny Bairstow higher up England’s order

England's Jonny Bairstow hits a shot that is caught in the deep by Peter Handscomb during day four of the Ashes Test match at The Gabba, Brisbane. (Pictures: Jason O'Brien/PA Wire)
England's Jonny Bairstow hits a shot that is caught in the deep by Peter Handscomb during day four of the Ashes Test match at The Gabba, Brisbane. (Pictures: Jason O'Brien/PA Wire)
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EVERYONE seems to think that Jonny Bairstow cannot bat in England’s top order and also keep wicket.

READ MORE - Joe Root calls on England to prove their worth

I listened to a radio programme the other night in which the former England batsmen Nick Compton and Mark Butcher agreed that Bairstow should move up from No 7 to No 5 and the gloves be given to Surrey’s Ben Foakes.

Neither Compton nor Butcher were advocating taking the gloves off Bairstow on competence grounds.

Rather, they were stating that the Yorkshireman, as one of England’s best batsmen, is too low in the order at No 7 and that it would be asking too much of him to bat at No 5 and also keep wicket.

My question to Compton, Butcher and all who agree with this line of thinking is: how do you know that Bairstow cannot perform both roles?

Jonny Bairstow keeping wicket earlier in the Ashes.

Jonny Bairstow keeping wicket earlier in the Ashes.

How do you know that he cannot do the two jobs in tandem and that the extra workload – or, more accurately, the reduced amount of time for rest after a long spell in the field – would affect him to the extent that it would be detrimental?

After all, plenty of wicketkeepers over the years have batted in the top order – Andy Flower, for example, averaged more than 50 for Zimbabwe.

If we don’t try, we’ll never know for sure, and as one of the fittest members of the England squad as well as one of the most gifted, my guess is that Bairstow has the physical capability as well as the mental capacity to rise to the challenge.

As England go into tomorrow’s do-or-die third Test against Australia in Perth, 2-0 down in the series and beset by unwanted off-field attention, it seems as good a time as any to reflect on the make-up of their batting and Bairstow’s role in it.

If we don’t try, we’ll never know for sure, and as one of the fittest members of the England squad as well as one of the most gifted, my guess is that Bairstow has the physical capability as well as the mental capacity to rise to the challenge.

Chris Waters

Of course, it is too late now to bemoan the absence of Ben Stokes following a street fight in Bristol, and the knock-on effect to the balance of the side caused by his absence at No 6.

It is also too late to lament that player A was selected in the squad to travel Down Under and player B left at home, and so on.

But although caution will surely attend England’s team selection for the game at the WACA, with Bairstow perhaps moved up to No 6 at best, it is time to look to the future and to ask how England’s batting should appear going forward.

For me, this all starts with a basic premise: namely, that the three best batsmen in the side are, in whatever order you want to put them, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Alastair Cook, which is the order in which I would put them at present.

England's Jonny Bairstow during a nets session at the WACA Ground, Perth.

England's Jonny Bairstow during a nets session at the WACA Ground, Perth.

In an ideal world, I would actually have Bairstow at No 4 and push Root up one place to No 3, meaning that you would have the best three batsmen in the top four.

That may well be asking too much of Bairstow if he has the gloves as well, I really wouldn’t know, but he certainly should be batting no lower than No 5.

Not only have the likes of the aforementioned Flower proved that it is possible to bat in the top-five and also keep wicket, but what is the point of choosing someone like Foakes and eating up another position?

Bairstow is effectively an all-rounder, which means that England can play an extra batsman or bowler because of him.

Unfortunately, England do not have the luxury of a top-order good enough to allow Bairstow to come in at No 6 or No 7.

Let’s at least try the experiment before dismissing it out of hand.

England's Alastair Cook during a nets session at the WACA Ground, Perth.

England's Alastair Cook during a nets session at the WACA Ground, Perth.

For all their good intentions, the likes of Compton and Butcher are making a problem where none has yet been proven to exist.

Indeed, I can think of many times at Yorkshire when Bairstow has kept wicket in four-day cricket and come in at No 5, often with three wickets down for not very many runs.

I can think of many times, too, when he has promptly rescued the team from that delicate position with a brilliant 
display.

Granted, the pressures of international cricket may be somewhat more intense, but I do not remember Bairstow emerging from those County Championship fixtures looking like a man who had just spent the cricketing equivalent of four days’ drilling hard rock. On the contrary, he showed that he can do both jobs consistently well.

England’s batting troubles alas, have been obvious for some time. There are hopes that Mark Stoneman might finally become a successful opening partner for Cook, although the latter’s form has hardly been anything to write home about.

The jury is still out over James Vince and Dawid Malan, and I, for one, remain unconvinced that either is a better bet than Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance, who has so far been sat on the sidelines.

Indeed, if I was selecting a top six for Perth purely on talent and availability, I would go for Cook, Stoneman, Root, Bairstow, Ballance and Malan, with Vince dropping out entirely.

Again, if No 4 is too much for Bairstow, then No 5 would suffice, but it is ridiculous to have a player of that ability batting with the tail.

He needs to be as high up as possible where he can do the most damage.