Over the last five years, Jonny Bairstow has been the best wicket-keeper batsman in Test cricket, alongside Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed, Kiwi gloveman BJ Watling and South Africa’s Quinton de Kock.
In 40 Tests during that period as gloveman, Bairstow has 149 dismissals – 140 catches and nine stumpings. He has 2,794 runs at an average of 42.33 with five centuries. Sarfraz’s numbers are excellent as well – 37 Tests, 2,178 runs at 41.8 with 121 dismissals. Watling (39 Tests, 2,046 runs at 40.9 and 154 dismissals) is right up there with De Kock (34 Tests, 1,884 runs at 36.9 and 150 dismissals).
Bairstow, it can be argued, is the more dominant and consistent wicket-keeper batsman among among all four, while Sarfraz is the more accomplished man behind the stumps as well as captain.
However, despite those highly impressive numbers, Bairstow is defending his position, in a way, in the Test team. No, Jonny is not getting dropped. But England are looking at Jos Buttler as a possible long-term option.
Why does Jonny Bairstow keep having to justify himself? Throughout his career he's faced opposition & now people want to take the gloves off him through no fault of his own. Why try and fix something that isn't broken & risk it having a detrimental effect? Let him get on with it— Chris Waters (@CWatersYPSport) August 28, 2018
It started with Bairstow fracturing his finger while collecting a ball in the Trent Bridge Test against India. Buttler took over as the wicket-keeper and hit a fine century.
Suddenly, Bairstow finds his wicket-keeping spot under the spotlight despite being consistent behind and in front of the stumps.
“For the last couple of years, I don’t think you’ve (media) mentioned or questioned my wicket-keeping once,” Bairstow said when he was asked about the scrutiny over his position.
“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.”
Which is a very valid point. When Bairstow started his career in 2011, it took him a long time to even get a consistent run in the limited-overs side. It seemed he had to work twice as hard to justify his selection. But credit to him for raising the bar considerably since 2015 in both Tests and ODIs. But despite emerging as the only guaranteed all-format, all-condition England player, alongside Ben Stokes, Bairstow is not being accorded the freedom do what he wants. Buttler has joined this list only in the last few months.
One would think that by this time, Bairstow would be the first name on the sheet with his position and comfort level given greater emphasis than that of some others. But after reading coach Trevor Bayliss’ comments that the team might have to convince Bairstow to possibly give the gloves to Buttler in the future and play purely as a batsman, it seems Jonny is back to the start of his career where he had fight for himself despite being better than most in the team.
The Yorkshireman’s journey to become Test keeper was a long one and he rightly wants to remain in the role. His batting has improved alongside it and Bairstow feels assured with gloves on throughout a Test. If England take one set of gloves away, his second set of gloves might begin to feel tight.
Bairstow is feeling on top of his game and he can pretty much walk into most teams as either a batsman or a keeper-batsman. But at this level, it’s all in the mind. England are unnecessarily looking to fix something that is working absolutely perfectly. And if they continue down this path, it can impact the confidence of Bairstow the batsman. And that would be a tragedy.
Jonny Bairstow still hopes he can keep wicket for England in the fourth Test at Southampton despite his broken finger.
It was understood, when England announced their 14-man squad last week, that the best Bairstow could manage here was to play as a specialist batsman as the hosts bid to clinch the Specsavers series by going 3-1 up.
But Bairstow was planning to test the injury with his wicketkeeping gloves on in training at the Ageas Bowl on Tuesday – raising the possibility he, rather than Jos Buttler, may yet be behind the stumps against India.
Bairstow said: “The swelling has gone down. I’m going to try and keep wicket in training this afternoon as well.”
Buttler took over from Bairstow after the Yorkshireman injured his left middle finger, taking a delivery from James Anderson during England’s heavy defeat at Trent Bridge.
The 28-year-old added: “You obviously want to play, so If I’m not able to keep wicket then I would like to think I’ll be a specialist batsman.
“But at the same time I’m desperate to try and keep my place as the wicketkeeper.
“I’m very, very keen to keep my spot as the wicketkeeper – because I would like to think it’s gone pretty well over the last 38/39 Test matches that I’ve been keeping for England.”
England’s Anderson is just six wickets away from McGrath’s mark of 563 ahead of the fourth Test against India on Thursday.
McGrath, who retired in 2007, expects Anderson to surpass his record and that it will then stand the test of time.
He wrote in the Daily Mail: “Jimmy Anderson deserves everything he gets, and even though he is an Englishman I will be delighted for him when he goes past my record and becomes the most prolific fast bowler in Test history.
“Jimmy stands just six wickets away from my tally of 563 so it is only a matter of time now before he gets there – he should do it this week in the fourth Test at Southampton – and I will be getting in touch with him as soon as he does to say well done.
“I have an awful lot of respect for Jimmy. Good luck to him. I believe once he goes past me he will never be beaten.
“Records are nice and I’ve been very proud to have taken more wickets than any fast bowler in Test history, but any high is there to be beaten and I will be equally proud of Jimmy when he goes past me because the fast bowlers’ union has to stick together, whichever country we come from.”