It wasn’t too long ago that an England line-up without Jonny Bairstow seemed an unthinkable prospect – to say he was one of the first names on the team sheet would have been no understatement.
But in the words of Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast.”
Bairstow is back for England’s third Test against Sri Lanka with the series wrapped up, but without the wicket-keeping gloves, and in the unusual spot of number three in the batting order.
It has been a rollercoaster of a month for the Yorkshireman, with an ankle injury picked up while playing football ruling him out of the first Test. Ben Foakes was the fortunate beneficiary from Bairstow’s misfortune, told to pack his bags for Sri Lanka after returning from a post-season break in Lisbon.
Such has been the impact of Foakes across his first two Tests, that Bairstow’s days as a wicketkeeper-batsman for England appear to be over – for the near future at the very least. Foakes’ match-turning hundred on debut meant a fit-again Bairstow was overlooked for the second Test in Pallekele.
Foakes showed that his work with the bat and gloves in Galle was no fluke, putting in another excellent performance across both departments, as England claimed their first series win in Asia since 2012. With his sterling work behind the stumps to the spinners, Foakes’ reputation as a gloveman has trumped that of Bairstow – despite the work the latter has put into becoming a Test-level wicketkeeper in recent times.
Bairstow acknowledges that his fortunes have changed rather rapidly with the ascent of the Surrey man.
“The last two-and-a-half years I’ve been in the team. And it was only three Tests ago I was in the top 10 batters in the world. And then you’re not playing,” Bairstow told the media yesterday.
However, despite Foakes’ success with the gloves, the desire to don the keeping gloves continues to burn within Bairstow, and he is prepared for any eventuality that might allow him to take his place behind the stumps once more.
“You don’t know how the make up of sides work, or how injuries happen. We’ve seen over the last few weeks, how quickly that can come around. So, I’m still working on all my skills. That will continue to be the case.”
Did you know he can keep too?
Ben Foakes’ work behind the stumps today made him the first-ever wicketkeeper to score a hundred and effect a stumping in the same Test, and the first keeper to score a hundred and complete three dismissals in an innings on debut.#SLvENG #SRIvENG pic.twitter.com/HkoSl7jpQ7
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) November 7, 2018
For now, a Sam Curran side-strain will see England’s one-day opener enter England’s revolving door of batsmen at three. The Ben Stokes experiment has been ditched in a hurry, while Moeen Ali is likely to go from No. 3 to No. 7 in the space of three Tests.
Playing solely as a batsman, Bairstow averages just 27.10 from 18 Tests, with a high score of 95 that came back in 2012 against South Africa.
Nevertheless, captain Joe Root has outlined that this will be Bairstow’s best way back into the side for now.
“It’s an opportunity for him to try and nail that spot down and he’s more than capable of doing it,” said Root.
“At the minute that (keeping wicket) is not an option for him in this team and I think it’s a really good opportunity for him to take his batting to another level.
“In the last couple of years he’s been statistically one of the top 10 players in the world in Test cricket so it would be nice to see him really grab number three by the scruff of the neck and use it as an opportunity to start really consistently scoring big runs in this format.”
England’s top-order has been famously shaky over the last few years, and while Root and Trevor Bayliss may prefer Foakes to keep hold of the gloves, how they would love for Bairstow to strike gold with the bat.
The final Test of the series begins in Colombo on Friday morning.