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Bairstow’s Brilliance Kicks The Can Down The Road

As someone who once argued that Jonny Bairstow was the second best batsman in the England team, and perhaps the most dominant batsman in county cricket since Graeme Hick, I was beginning to feel a tad silly a week or so ago. England’s batting line-up is notoriously porous, yet poor Jonny couldn’t even make the XI at Kandy.

It has been a weird year or so for the ginger nutter. He’d firmly established himself as England’s first choice keeper, played reasonably well in the Ashes despite the carnage around him, but he couldn’t make Eoin Morgan’s exciting ODI team. It bothered him. It bothered a lot of other people too. And when he finally got his chance, bizarrely at the top of the order, he seized it with both hands.

There was just one problem. Part of Jonny’s success in white ball cricket came from making room outside off-stump and driving pugnaciously through extra cover and cover point. And this did his test form no favours at all. Jonny soon lost his red ball rhythm, didn’t do himself justice against India, and then his injury problems got worse. People started to doubt him as a result.

Jonny seems like a sensitive soul which didn’t help matters either. Jos Buttler’s recall seemed to unnerve him, especially when people suggested that the inferior gloveman should take his preferred job. What people forgot is that Bairstow has always scored more runs (or at least he used to) when he had a second string to his bow. He’d even talked candidly about how keeping took the pressure off his batting.

When Jonny hurt himself playing football at the beginning of this Sri Lanka tour – honestly, why do they insist on doing this? – things went from bad to worse. Foakes came in. Foakes batted brilliantly. And Foakes kept with a silkiness that England fans haven’t seen since the days of Bob Taylor (or perhaps Jack Russell). Suddenly Jonny was out of the team – a victim of England’s plethora of all-rounders.

Fortunately for Jonny, however, England’s inability to identify a decent number 3 – the experiments with Moeen and then Stokes at first drop were as short lived as they were illogical – suddenly presented an opportunity. With Sam Curran injured, and the management completely unconvinced by Joe Denly (the man Ed Smith had hoisted on them) Bairstow was recalled to hold the poisoned chalice.

It didn’t look like a good fit at all. Jonny has rarely batted 3 for Yorkshire let alone England. He said he didn’t want to bat there either. He averages just over 40 batting at 6 & 7 in test cricket but only 29 at number 5. If he couldn’t master third drop, how was Jonny going to master first drop?

What’s more, although Root and Bayliss talked up Jonny’s ability to bat 3 in the buildup to this game – even though they’d never advocated batting him there before (even when he didn’t have the gloves) – they were blatantly just throwing shit at the wall and hoping some of it would stick at this point. The truth is that nobody in the entire world suggested Jonny had the technique and temperament to bat 3 in test cricket until there was an unexpected vacancy and Jonny was the next man up.

Fortunately things have worked out rather nicely though. Three things worked massively in Bairstow’s favour in Colombo. A) The pitch was slow and offered the bowlers no assistance, B) seam bowlers are basically redundant in Sri Lanka, and C) the opposition’s attack has less teeth than the 100 year old French woman who thought Angel Merkel was Macron’s wife last week. Jackpot!

The result was a heart warming century that really shoved it to the critics – although, to be honest, I’m not really sure anyone ever doubted Jonny’s quality as a batsman. Either way it was a personal triumph, and I’m delighted that a batsman I enjoy watching so much is back in the team and doing well.

There is, however, one small potential problem. I still don’t think that Jonny is a test No.4 let alone a test No.3. He doesn’t play with particularly soft hands, his defence isn’t as watertight as it should be, and I really think he’ll struggle big time against quality fast bowling when the ball is hard and doing a bit. If England’s top 3 in the Ashes is Jennings, Burns, and Bairstow, then Australia will be licking their lips.

That’s why, although I’m delighted that Jonny has exorcised his demons, I’m worried that this century will do England little good in the long-run. It’s a bit like Jennings’s ton in Galle. It kids people that a solution to a problem has been found when I strongly suspect that it hasn’t.

Therefore, in the interests of context, and in honour of The Moaner, I feel duty bound to repeat what I said after Keaton’s personal triumph two weeks ago. This is a unique tour, played in very unique conditions, that England are unlikely to encounter anywhere else in the world. It’s basically trial by spin against some really average spinners. In fact, it’s more a battle against the heat than a battle of skill and technique.

This innings is, therefore, sadly meaningless. It won’t count for anything when Keaton has been dismissed first ball and Jonny’s facing the second ball of the Ashes in nine month’s time. Until Bairstow has tightened up his method, and proved he can play quality pace bowling against a hard ball, I’ll continue to doubt that he’s anything other than a fish out of water at 3.

But what today did prove, however, is that England simply must find a role for Bairstow in the side. He is the second best batsman we have. And he deserves to play in the spot where he’s most effective: at number six or possibly number five now that he’s playing as a specialist batter.

The problem with doing anything else is that it makes Root look like a hypocrite. The skipper, who is the best player in the side, refuses to bat 3 because he feels comfortable at 4 and promoting him to first drop somewhat diminishes his effectiveness. So how can he possibly ask Jonny, who is the second best batsman in the side, to move up from 5 or 6 in the long-term? It’s an even bigger jump and it just doesn’t add up. England can’t afford to diminish either their first or second best players at the moment.

The bottom line is that England can’t avoid making the hard decisions for long. At some point they’ll be forced to purge one of their favourite sons from the XI. Bairstow, Buttler, Stokes, Moeen, and now Foakes, are all middle-order players best suited to batting at 6 or 7. They could bat 5 (at a push) but first drop is a step too far. The problem, of course, is that Stokes bowls, Moeen bowls, and Jos Buttler is the apple of Ed Smith’s eye. So where does that leave Jonny?

The truth is that England can have their cake and eat it on these flat pitches against club standard spinners. But let’s not pretend these games are telling us anything about England’s prospects next summer, or our prospects in any series played in England, New Zealand, South Africa, or Australia in the future. And to be honest, I’m a little mystified as to why so many pundits seem to think the No.3 issue has suddenly been solved. It’s a bit premature don’t you think?

In celebrating Jonny’s big day, the commentators went through the record books to identify the last England No.3 (other than Trott) to make a century overseas. The answer was Ravi Bopara. He was the future once. He scored three hundreds against the West Indies. And then Australia turned up.

James Morgan

2018-11-23T17:09:39+00:00November 23rd, 2018|SL v Eng 2018, Test Cricket|33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. Tony Bennett November 23, 2018 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    Root’s the captain so he can bat where he wants. Everyone else has got to bat where they’re told. What else can be done when there are four number sixes in the team? I await the day when Buttler loses form and is axed, to be replaced by Vince, who bats at six while Bairstow is at three………

  2. muffin November 23, 2018 at 5:33 pm - Reply

    I agree with most of what you say, James, but there is that stat that YJB has only scored centuries in the first innings of a match when he was keeping.
    As for batting 3, I agree that he doesn’t have the technique, but, given that Root refuses to bat there and Denly has fallen out of favour (did you mean “foisted” rather than “hoisted”, James?), he’s the best of the rest. If he is found out in the West Indies, there’s still time to think again before the Ashes.
    Unfortunately we will still be looking for at least one opener by then, too…..

  3. fengunner November 23, 2018 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    Sometimes, it’s best to see what happens next. The answer is not the fact that he’s JUST scored a hundred, but when he last did it?

    I wonder what the consequential thinking of the England management is at the moment? Stokes? Moeen?

    We have 3 keepers who can score hundreds but we only need one of them, or two, or three? Moeen scores hundreds and he bowls. Stoker too,

    Perhaps the fact that we are 300 for 7 on a wicket where 400 is the absolute minimum requirement tells us something.

    Anyway, it’s a great position to be in!

  4. Vashtar November 23, 2018 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    Why they insist on playing bloody football to warm up is beyond me.Its idiotic in club cricket let alone first class and test cricket. Do Man City get down the indoor nets before a big champions league game?

  5. Colin Chatfield November 23, 2018 at 6:08 pm - Reply

    Agree. No guarantee we have found our next permanent no.3. Jonny batted great today but one has to be realistic about the quality of bowling – probably the weakness Sri Lankan team we have seen for many years. My main concern is that in his eyes t is always about him and today he was not thinking about what is best for the team. Everyone in the game at pro level knows Foakes is the best wicket keeper and maybe Jonny has to simply accept that and make his mark as (hopefully) a permanent top order batter. Having said this I want to see him against Starc, Cummins and Pattinson with a Duke ball on a seamer before we make a judgement. After all everyone is saying Keaton Jennings is safe now he has made a century but he has failed in his other innings in the series!!

  6. Mark November 23, 2018 at 6:14 pm - Reply

    Can we hear some calls on what the starting 11 will be against aus?

  7. Vashtar November 23, 2018 at 6:22 pm - Reply

    I’d go with Burns against the Australians. Jennings is a non starter for me against them,he would get horribly found out by the likes of Starc etc.

    Agree that Sri Lanka are probably at their weakest since the 1980s.

    Woakes,Stokes,Leach,Anderson and Broad to bowl.

  8. John November 23, 2018 at 8:04 pm - Reply

    I’m just enjoying the moment and trying not to think about the summer ! In reality, we still have most of the fundamental ‘structural’ problems with Test side thatwe had last year – and Jimmy’s a year older – but face a sterner Test.

  9. Inland Sailor November 23, 2018 at 8:13 pm - Reply

    Everyone’s panicking about the Ashes, but answer me this:

    When was the last time Australia won an Ashes series in England?

  10. Rooto November 23, 2018 at 8:14 pm - Reply

    I was won over even before the last 4 sentences, and then you really drilled it home. A very well constructed argument, which leads logically to Root going back to 3. Doesn’t it?

  11. Mark Hexton November 23, 2018 at 8:21 pm - Reply

    Undoubtedly some tough revisions next summer. I fear that to accommodate all our all rounders and with Woakes certain to come back into the team, Foakes will be the one to miss out

    • muffin November 23, 2018 at 8:27 pm - Reply

      I don’t see Woakes as nailed on. Anderson, Broad and Stokes would be a competent seam attack. I think, in the short term, Woakes would have to displace Broad (in the longer term, Anderson of course).

  12. muffin November 23, 2018 at 8:28 pm - Reply

    …of course, should we fit in Curran as well?

  13. Harmy's Head November 23, 2018 at 8:30 pm - Reply

    Here we go again – Australia, Australia, Australia. No wonder we’ve been so rubbish in the subcontinent for so long, because winning there doesn’t seem to matter to anyone on this blog. To get to number 1 in the world Test rankings – which should be our ambition – we need to aim to beat everyone, everywhere, not just obsess about one particular opponent who we play every couple of years.

    My usual moan aside, I thought Bairstow was terrific today, considering he’s had no match practice for weeks and was in a position he’s never batted before. Shame the rest somewhat gave it away – the pitch looks better than in the first two Tests so anything under 400 looks below par. Hope the tail can push on in the morning.

    • muffin November 23, 2018 at 8:39 pm - Reply

      I can’t agree. Most Test matches are rather ho-hum, but the Ashes ones are surely much more significant. There is no more important cricket match (!) than England v. Australia in a Test Match (discuss!). Just think what those Aussies think when they beat us!

    • Mark November 24, 2018 at 9:23 am - Reply

      I dont think that anyone in this blog have a direct influence on how well we have performed in sub continent?

      The discussion is once again based on the orginal point made that to be number 1 we will need to eventually find a settled 11 that can beat the best and consistently.

    • Inland Sailor November 25, 2018 at 5:09 pm - Reply

      Unfortunately, the ECB also only seem to care about the Ashes. Mostly because it’s the biggest money-spinner.

    • AB November 26, 2018 at 12:19 pm - Reply

      Plastic cricket fans only muster up enough enthusiasm to care about the ashes. Real fans care about every series equally.

      Its like the people who claim to be a “massive” Welsh rugby fan for that one day each spring when they play England but then not paying any attention for the rest of the year.

  14. Mick November 23, 2018 at 8:46 pm - Reply

    As

  15. Mick November 23, 2018 at 8:55 pm - Reply

    As an Aussie, Johnny could bat anywhere he wanted for us, keep wickets too. I don’t get the concern, equally I don’t subscribe to the Starc menace. He fires about once every fifth outing then gets Injured.

  16. Marc Evans November 23, 2018 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    That’s 5 innings on the trot without a collapse. One for the statisticians amongst you, how long ago did this last occur, assuming a collapse is being bowled out for less than 200.
    Great to see Bairstow showing his class, but would have preferred to see how Denley coped. I still say it was a missed opportunity not to play him.
    Opportunity tomorrow for Moin to join the fun in his preferred position and who knows Broad to apply the long handle to effect. We could easily bat them out of the game by lunchtime.
    Signed,
    Pollyanna

  17. Doug M November 24, 2018 at 7:05 am - Reply

    Whatever happens Root must bat 4 because that’s where he’s best, number 3 just doesn’t work for him. Good innings from JB at 3 against this club side, but I don’t see it as a permanent solution. Looking ahead, surely we need a real quick, and Stone hasn’t been tried yet.

    • Inland Sailor November 25, 2018 at 5:11 pm - Reply

      Root has his highest Test score (254) at no. 3

  18. Simon H November 24, 2018 at 10:07 am - Reply

    That Rashid only dismissing tail-enders again…

  19. Nigel November 24, 2018 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    And Jennings has cemented his place as a specialist short leg…

  20. Marc Evans November 24, 2018 at 1:00 pm - Reply

    I knew ct Foakes b Stokes would have to come to the party. Imagine if Woakes had been picked ahead of Broad. Old pals act working again.

    • Inland Sailor November 25, 2018 at 5:16 pm - Reply

      To be fair, Broad has an amazing talent for getting catches dropped off his bowling

  21. Nick November 24, 2018 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    I’m not saying Sri Lanka are world beaters but if there was nothing in the pitch and it was a club bowling attack then how was the next best score 57? And he should have been given out on zero. If Curran had been fully fit then Bairstow scorer of 30% of the runs wouldn’t have played

  22. Benny November 24, 2018 at 2:21 pm - Reply

    I’m feeling glass half full now. England are in a better state than before the series.

  23. Cricketcricketcricket November 25, 2018 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    Well, didn’t the top three who at least two have been a messiah do well……

    England are no closer to a test team now than 12 months ago.. if anything, just more confused

    • Nigel November 25, 2018 at 9:59 pm - Reply

      Good of you to admit it.
      🙂

  24. Cricketcricketcricket November 25, 2018 at 9:53 pm - Reply

    SL are an embarrassment.. so so so so bad

  25. James November 26, 2018 at 8:47 am - Reply

    The central problem is that England currently don’t have a test class no 3 (or 2 test class openers, but that’s another story), assuming you don’t count Root. Apart from the hundred in Kandy (when Lakmal was injured), Jennings’ main contribution has been at short leg (where he’s been brilliant). I agree about Bairstow (though I want to see Foakes keep the gloves), which really means Buttler (who has done pretty well so far) has to go.

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