YORKSHIRE’s Jonny Bairstow is desperate to keep his grasp on England’s wicketkeeping gloves despite discouraging signs during Test match training in Southampton.
It was understood when Bairstow was named last week in a 14-man squad for the fourth Specsavers Test against India that the best he could hope for, after breaking his finger at Trent Bridge, was to play as a specialist batsman here and hand the gloves back to Jos Buttler.
I think there’s obviously conversations to be had – but at this moment in time I was asked if I was comfortable batting at five and keeping wicket, and it’s been successful.Jonny Bairstow
But at his press conference before England practice the Yorkshireman revealed he was planning to put his left middle finger to the test again with the wicketkeeping gloves on.
A cursory quarter-hour session followed in which Bairstow took gentle throws and then lobs from a ground-level bowling machine before spending at least as long in earnest and occasionally animated conversation with head coach Trevor Bayliss.
The set-piece exchange of views on the edge of the Ageas Bowl square made for compulsive viewing, yards away from Bairstow’s team-mates and national selector Ed Smith.
It follows Bayliss’s acknowledgement last week that if England decide they prefer Buttler to Bairstow in the long term – rather than just because of current injury – there would be “deep conversation” and “a lot of explaining and chatting” in the offing.
Before he started trying to convince England of his current fitness to keep wicket as well as bat, Bairstow said: “The finger feels good. The swelling’s gone down and it’s a lot better than I thought it was going to be.”
Asked if that means he may still be behind the stumps as England try to seal the series by going 3-1 up, the 28-year-old said: “It’s up for discussion ... I don’t know how it’s going to be.
“I’m going to try and keep wicket this afternoon as well ... I’m still desperate to try to keep my place as the wicketkeeper.”
England will surely be wise to exercise caution in the immediate term, but the identity of their first-choice wicketkeeper for the winter and next summer’s Ashes is more intriguing.
At the slightest suggestion he may be better concentrating solely on his batting, Bairstow said: “That’s quite a bold statement – because if you look at the stats they suggest I’m better if I keep wicket as well.
“You’re kind of entering into uncharted territory. I’d like to keep my spot as wicketkeeper because I like to think it’s gone well over the last 38 or 39 Tests.”
He is encouraged that, until injury struck, previous questions about his suitability to keep wicket in Tests had waned.
Bairstow told a room full of journalists: “It would be like saying, ‘Do you want to give up your laptop and write everything free-hand again?’
“For the last couple of years, I don’t think you’ve mentioned or questioned my wicketkeeping once. Before that I would cop a barrage every other Test – (so) for me that’s a huge feather in my cap.
“I don’t know what the conversations are that are going to be had, but it’s a difficult one because you put so much hard work into keeping wicket over a long sustained period of time.
“I think there’s obviously conversations to be had – but at this moment in time I was asked if I was comfortable batting at five and keeping wicket, and it’s been successful.”