NASSER HUSSAIN: Bairstow must not treat the gloves as a safety net

NASSER HUSSAIN: Jonny Bairstow must not treat the gloves as a safety net – England look stronger with him back in the position of his choice but he MUST show he’s a better player than his Test average of 33 suggests

  • Jonny Bairstow will be back behind the stumps for England on Thursday 
  • Bairstow will replace Jos Buttler as the wicket-keeper for the fourth India Test 
  • Yet he must not rest on his laurels as he looks to bump up his Test match average 

Jonny Bairstow will be delighted to be getting back the gloves in the Test side — and England have done the right thing. But I don’t want him resting on his laurels.

It has become a bit of a Bairstow cliche, but probably with good reason: he’s never better than when he has a point to prove. So I’d be saying to him, ‘Well done, Jonny, you’re back where you want to be. Now go out and show why you’re still one of the best red-ball batsmen in the country.’

I can understand why he’s always wanted the gloves, and why down the years he’s told anyone who will listen that his batting stats are better when he’s keeping wicket (an average of 37, with five hundreds) than when he isn’t (an average of 27, with one). 

Jonny Bairstow in action with the gloves during England’s practice session on Wednesday 

He also made the point, reasonably, that he was keeping well when the gloves were taken off him.

There are powerful personal reasons for him wanting to keep wicket, because his dad, David, did the job too for Yorkshire and England. Jonny also knows having two strings to your bow can ease the pressure.

As he’s discovered since Jos Buttler finally became England’s Test keeper after the 2019 Ashes, specialist batsmen are more vulnerable after a few failures. The gloves can be a sort of insurance. Hold five catches and a duck might be more easily overlooked.

So I get why Bairstow wanted the gloves. I also get why Ed Smith, when he started out as national selector, went down the Buttler route. Bairstow had struggled for runs in Tests and was getting bowled too often for a player of his class. His white-ball game had started to affect his red-ball cricket.

He looks more secure having tinkered with his technique. He’s going back and across to off-stump and is trying to hit the ball back where it came from, rather than aiming across the line. He’s in a much better place.

I get why Bairstow wanted the gloves – but I also get why England went down the Buttler route

But he still needs to deliver with a big innings. In this series, his scores have been 29, 30, 57, 2 and 29. Not bad, but he’s got himself in several times without going on to three figures. He knows he can do better.

That’s why he needs to forget he’s got the gloves again and focus on backing up what many pundits in this country believe — he’s a serious batsman, one of England’s best, and is capable of big hundreds.

It shouldn’t bother him much that he’s likely to be going in at No 6, where he averages 37 — more than any other position except No 7 — and has scored two of his six Test hundreds. He’s pretty well got what he wants.

Some wondered whether there was room in the same Test side for Buttler (pic) and Bairstow

Some wondered whether there was room in the same Test side for Buttler and Bairstow, but I think there was — up to a point.

The potential upside of Buttler turning himself into a Test-match force was huge, even if it hasn’t quite happened that way. And the chance for Bairstow to show he’s in the top half-dozen red-ball batsmen in the country had to be looked at. After all, he made that hundred in Colombo from No 3 in November 2018, when he was still bristling at losing the gloves.

But when you look at the team England are likely to put out on Thursday, with Ollie Pope or Dan Lawrence at No 5, Bairstow at No 6, and Moeen Ali at No 7, you can’t say it’s weaker than the one which won at Headingley.

Buttler’s keeping has been excellent, but he’s been averaging 14 with the bat.

Above all, I’d always want Bairstow in my team. I know he can be a bit prickly, but as a captain you don’t just want 10 mates out there agreeing with everything you do.

So in all respects, England look stronger with Bairstow back in the position of his choice. Now he has to show he’s a better player than his Test average of 33 suggests.

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