If England’s long-term plan for the Test team is to take the wicketkeeping gloves away from Jonny Bairstow in order for him to focus his energy on becoming the best specialist batsman he can be, the player remains dead against it.
Speaking before Joe Root’s side reconvened in the lead-up to the fourth Test against India starting on Thursday – with England leading the five-match series 2-1 – Bairstow once again stated his desire to combine both roles despite the likelihood that, following the broken middle finger sustained at Trent Bridge, it will be Jos Buttler with the gloves this week.
The injury, though, has given rise to the suggestion of making the switch permanent with the head coach, Trevor Bayliss, having already revealed a temptation to push Bairstow one spot higher to No 4 and make the most of his “world-class” potential. The Yorkshireman, who still trained with the gloves on Tuesday but whose best bet of playing appears to be solely as a batsman, is not convinced.
“That’s quite a bold statement because, if you look at the stats, they suggest I’m better if I keep wicket as well,” Bairstow said. “You’re kind of entering into uncharted territory and, as I mentioned, I’d like to keep my spot as keeper because I like to think it’s gone well over the last 38 or 39 Tests since I’ve been keeping for England.
“I think there’s obviously conversations to be had but I was asked if I was comfortable batting at No 5 and keeping [at the start of the summer] and it’s been successful. I’m still desperate to try to keep my place as the keeper.”
Those conversations appeared to be under way on Tuesday. Bairstow and Bayliss spent around 20 minutes chatting on the outfield. From the former’s body language it appeared to be about more than the weather and not least when he then walked off and offered some words to the national selector, Ed Smith, without breaking stride.
Though Bairstow’s earlier reference to the statistics owes much to his original spell in the Test team as a greenhorn batsman – he averages 29 without the gloves, 42 with them – it is of course the role he has performed well for Yorkshire, not least when his avalanche of runs powered them to the County Championship in 2014 and 2015.
Bairstow admitted he does not “100% know why” he believes one discipline helps the other, beyond a desire to remain involved in the game at all times, but he was pleased the chat around his keeping has died down in the past two years. He also accepted that much of the current hypothesising is chiefly a compliment about his batting but added that his goals, in terms of Test run-scoring, could still be fulfilled as a wicketkeeper.
Of his current fitness Bairstow said that, unlike a few days ago, he was now able to put his hand in his pocket – cue laughter from him following a joke about Yorkshiremen and their money – and the signs suggest he may well make the cut.
If so Hampshire’s James Vince, the reserve batsman in the squad, may have to wait for his Test return. But it would mean Bairstow taking an injury into the match and thus a further blow could see a substitute fielder denied. Certainly India, going by what the seamer Mohammed Shami had to say, will be looking to capitalise on it.
“When you see that a batsman has a weakness and he feels uncomfortable in some way, you’d prefer to work on that aspect,” Shami said. “It’s not just me. Any fast bowler will want to target his weak zone. So we will definitely look at that.”
England’s headaches go beyond the wicketkeeping position. Chris Woakes was an absentee for much of the session, having reported a recurrence of the quad issue that forced him out for six weeks of the summer, and thus Sam Curran, omitted for the returning Ben Stokes at Trent Bridge, appears set to return. Jamie Porter, left out of the squad to play for Essex at home against Hampshire on Wednesday, has been placed on standby.
Stokes, meanwhile, is still nursing a niggle at the back of his left knee. Though the all-rounder charged in with the ball at nets, a possible reduction in his output may bring the in‑form Moeen Ali back into England’s thoughts as an additional bowling option, perhaps displacing Ollie Pope from the XI. Suddenly India, fresh from that resurgent win at Trent Bridge, appear the more settled side at the moment.