Jonny Bairstow was “proud” to be asked to move up England’s Test batting order and remains confident he can cope with the demands of being the wicketkeeper at No. 5.
Bairstow’s elevation is part of a broader restructuring of England’s battling line-up as Ed Smith takes on the role of national selector. It was Smith who phoned and asked him about the shift following a winter campaign where Bairstow scored two of the four centuries England managed in seven Tests.
“I’m very proud to be asked to move up the order – it means the people in charge have got the belief in you to go out and deliver,” Bairstow said. “They are asking a little extra, they are saying ‘We want you to do this, we trust you, we believe in you’ – and that’s what you want within a team. You want the captain, coach and head selectors to back you.”
Bairstow began last season at No. 5 but that lasted just two Tests against South Africa before he moved back down the order. During the Ashes he started at No. 7 (and was once, wastefully, as low as No. 8 due to a nightwatchman) before being elevated one spot, then ended the season back at seven where he scored a century in Christchurch.
Being so low runs the risk of him getting stranded with the lower order and Joe Root said the promotion for Bairstow was an attempt to get England’s best batsmen into the top six. One counter argument made is that Australia rarely moved Adam Gilchrist from No. 7, from where he reimagined the role of a Test wicketkeeper-batsman, however he had a great batting line-up above him.
There remains a school of thought that England won’t get the most out of Bairstow as a batsman while he has the gloves, but he is determined to make a success of the all-round position.
“It’s something I’ve done for Yorkshire for a while, and occasionally you are back in the middle after being in the field for a lot of overs, but you have to deal with it – that’s why we do all the physical preparation,” Bairstow said at the launch of England’s latest New Balance kits. “You are going to be tired at the end of a Test match no matter what, so whether I bat at five or seven is not going to make too much difference to me.
“In the past, whenever a challenge has been thrown down, I like to think I’ve stepped up and risen to those challenges and taken them in my stride. That’s exactly what I’ll be trying to do now, and I don’t think moving up will affect me in any way. I know I will relish it.”
As far as the wicketkeeping position goes, Bairstow will have another specialist gloveman alongside him at Lord’s, in a role reversal to the one-day side, following Jos Buttler‘s recall. Ben Foakes, the Surrey wicketkeeper, who carried drinks around Australia and New Zealand, also remains in contention and is often rated the best gloveman in the English game but there is no doubt Bairstow’s keeping has come on hugely in the last couple of years.
“I think there’s an understanding among all of us that anyone can keep wicket on any given day, given the opportunity,” he said. “But at the same time I’d like to think my keeping has gone from strength to strength, and that hard work doesn’t stop.
“If I drop a chance I’m not going to be thinking, ‘Oh, blooming heck.’ I might be catching 500 to 600 balls in a day and, realistically, there are going to be half-chances that are bouncing in front of first slip and you have to dive across.
“That’s why you do your practice – it might be that, out of the three out of 10 you’re not meant to take, you end up grabbing one of them.”