The Ashes: Why it is time England stopped messing around with Yorkshire CCC’s Jonny Bairstow

SPECULATION surrounds the future of various individuals amid the wreckage of England’s Ashes campaign.

England's  Jonny Bairstow: Shunted around.
England's Jonny Bairstow: Shunted around.

First and foremost coach Chris Silverwood, who now has Covid to go with a 3-0 deficit with two Tests to play.

Joe Root’s position as captain has been widely discussed, while the likes of Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow are fighting for their spots as the winds of change gather.

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Ashes campaigns – particularly unsuccessful ones – have a habit of drawing lines in the sand.

England expects:Yorkshire duo Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow. Picture: Getty Images

Although Silverwood appears ‘done for’ given the noises from Down Under, there is a general sense that Root should continue as captain due to the lack of viable alternatives.

Broad may need a strong showing in the last couple of Tests to prolong his Test career (the fourth Test starts in Sydney at 11.30pm UK time), while Buttler has never quite cracked the red-ball game.

Bairstow, on the other hand, is a different story and one of a handful who can ‘do the lot’. I tend to work from the starting position that an England team with Bairstow in it is better than an England team with Bairstow not in it, regardless of whether the ball is red, white, or pink with purple dots.

Of course, in the interests of fairness and impartiality, it is true that the stats have tailed off lately.

Bairstow has managed one half-century in his last 26 Test innings dating back to August, 2019; his average has fallen to 33.49.

There is mitigation, however, for he has been in-and-out of the team (yet again) and batted at No 7, No 6, No 5 and No 3 having been shunted around the batting order (yet again).

He has also lost the wicketkeeping gloves for reasons that remain inexplicable hereabouts, not least because you could effectively create another batting position by playing Bairstow as keeper and bringing in, say, Ollie Pope in place of Buttler, who remains a remarkable white-ball player.

England have never quite worked out what to do with Bairstow and, in this judgement, have hindered his chances of reaching his potential. A not dissimilar thing happened with Adil Rashid, and it still staggers me that our finest spin bowler played just 19 Tests – it should have been more like 119.

One should perhaps be grateful, therefore, that Bairstow has played 79 to go with 152 white-ball appearances for his country. At the same time, it would be a travesty if one so talented was denied the chance to push up to and beyond the 100-Test milestone.

Unlike Broad, who has plenty of miles on the clock as a 35-year-old fast bowler who has given magnificent service en route to a staggering haul of 526 Test wickets, Bairstow is a comparatively youthful 32.

There is no reason why he could not have another five years, say, at the top in Test cricket and help England to reset their red-ball game.

Although the principal problems are further down the chain, with the county game not set-up to produce Test players and the sport in general moving further and further along the white-ball route, England could at least identify their best Test players and stick with them.

In terms of the batting, and regardless of where he bats in the order, the core axis in this view should be Bairstow, Stokes and Root, with everyone else slotting around them.

Indeed, if pressed on the point, I would go as far to say that Bairstow is at least on a par with Stokes in terms of the right to be regarded as England’s second-best batsman, although Dawid Malan might have his supporters. Granted, there will always be people knocking Bairstow’s technique, but I prefer to look at the overall package.

Bairstow’s latest recall, for the Boxing Day Test, saw him make the second-highest score of 35 in England’s first innings behind Root’s 50. Although those are hardly earth-shaking figures, it was a battling performance from Bairstow when the chips were down, a position when he is usually at his best.

It was also his first first-class innings for almost four months, and he has played just nine first-class innings since the start of last season.

That gives you an idea of the wider problem in terms of the schedule, as well as giving Bairstow’s critics some fairly flimsy ammunition.