Trevor Bayliss has hinted England may “have a decision to make” over Jonny Bairstow’s future as Test wicketkeeper, which could have ramifications across England’s batting line-up.
The Yorkshireman fractured a finger during the third Test against India at Trent Bridge and remains a doubt for the fourth Test at the Ageas Bowl, which starts next week. If he gets the go-ahead from the medical team, he is likely to play as a specialist batsman.
Jos Buttler took over the gloves at Lord’s and hit his maiden Test hundred during the next innings, and he seems set to retain the gloves in Bairstow’s absence.
However, Bayliss has suggested it could be a long-term solution that would allow Bairstow to enter the top four, but he knows he has a fight on his hands to convince the current Test No.5 of the ploy. Bairstow has enhanced his glovework since he first replaced Matt Prior during the 2013-14 Ashes tour and enjoys the responsibility.
“I think keeping in the next game will probably be the most difficult [for Bairstow],” the England coach said. “We’ve got to check with the medical guys in the next few days. They are suggesting he may not be able to keep but might be able to bat.
“We’ll have to see how it responds. If that gives someone else another opportunity – it’s like any injury, if someone comes in and does well, then you have a decision to make.
“That’ll be the hard thing, trying to convince Jonny. That will be a decision that is taken from the team point of view. He is a world-class batter, we know that, one of the difficult things might be convincing Jonny of that.
“I think he has improved his keeping over the last couple of years from where he was say when we were in South Africa. He’s aware of that. He’s done some hard work. Jos will have to do some hard work as well. He’s been keeping a lot in one-day cricket but keeping 100 overs-a-day can be difficult. There are other options out there as well.”
If Buttler or one of the “other options”, such as Surrey’s Ben Folkes, took the gloves, it would allow Bairstow to move up to No.4 – a problem area since Joe Root shifted up to first drop.
Bayliss is buoyed by Bairstow’s form in ODI cricket, where he plays as a specialist batsman – Bairstow has averaged more than 50 in the ODI side over the last year. While his Test stats don’t back this up – he averages 42.33 with the gloves as opposed to 38.55 overall – many believe we won’t see the best of Bairstow the batsman until we see the back of Bairstow the ‘keeper.
“If that was the way we went, it would certainly be a deep conversation,” Bayliss said. “Jonny’s a reasonable bloke. If that’s the way we wanted to go… in the long run, he wants to play Test cricket. We know he wants to keep but there would be a lot of explaining and chatting.”
Ollie Pope, 20, has occupied the No.4 spot since his debut at Lord’s and has so far made 54 runs in three innings. He has never batted higher than six for Surrey, so Bairstow’s promotion could also allow Pope a smoother transition into Test cricket.
“He’s batted no higher than six for Surrey so it was a big ask to come into international cricket and bat four but the short times he’s been at the crease showed that he might be a good international cricketer,” Bayliss said.
“We would have probably liked to have started him off down a bit lower but the hole was at No. 4. Obviously, Jonny is an option there as well which might allow Ollie to drop a little lower. These are all things we’ve discussed.”
The England coach has backed England’s highest-ever run-scorer Alastair Cook, whose highest score in this series is 29.
“Cooky has not changed his demeanour,” Bayliss said. “You wouldn’t know there was any difference between now and when he is scoring plenty of runs. He still practises as hard, if not harder, than anyone else. You watch him play in the nets and he is actually striking the ball quite nicely.
“His feet move well. I wouldn’t say he is out of form – he is still hitting the ball well – he is out of runs in the middle. But he is giving himself every opportunity. He practises hard and he still plays an active role in his position in the team.”
The fourth Test between England and India starts on Thursday August 30, with England currently leading 2-1 in the five-Test series.