While some England players are raring to pick up a bat or a red ball against the No.1 Test team, Jonny Bairstow can’t wait to get his mitts on, well, the mitts. Having relinquished the wicketkeeping duties to Jos Buttler during the limited-overs leg of England’s summer, the Test gloveman will be back behind the stumps for the first match of the series at Edgbaston.
Bairstow’s keeping has improved markedly since he first took up the gloves for England, as a replacement for the injured Matt Prior during the 2013-14 Ashes. His development is a testament to both hard work and a stubborn refusal to be considered as a batsman only.
“It is quite good fun running around like a lunatic on the boundary,” said Bairstow of his time as an out-fielder during the one-day matches. “It is not quite as much fun getting abused by home fans… it is exciting.
“I enjoyed it this week being back at Headingley. The last time I kept before then properly was the last Test match so we have had a little bit of a break and a lay-off, but I don’t see that as too much of an issue.
“Your movements and everything like, you just settle back in. Yes, you have got a pair of gloves on and you are standing behind instead of out on the boundary. You are able to get your angles a bit better but it is something I have worked hard on for a number of years now.
“It was good to get a bit of a break because it keeps your mind fresh, your body fresh, and it keeps that excitement and hunger to come back in and want to do well, keep pushing yourself and to keep having an impact on the game.”
Leaving aside his glovework, Bairstow’s impact on matches this season has been significant. Earlier in the week he scored 82 in Yorkshire’s Specsavers County Championship match against Lancashire, while he has made solid contributions for England batting up and down the order in all three formats since the start of the summer, calling to mind his form in 2016.
“I am happy with the way I have been playing,” Bairstow said during the launch of the Specsavers Test Series. “There are differences that are going to change from white-ball to red-ball. With the white ball I have been opening the batting, with the red ball I am bit further down, hopefully batting for a longer time and your roles differ.
“I would like to hope that is something over the last ten years of playing, with the way my game is and evolving, that I have been able to modify those in different scenarios and different conditions against different opposition.
“Whether I am coming into it in good nick… I don’t want to jinx myself. I am content with my game is at but there is a lot more I can offer and a lot further I can go in the game.”
Bairstow was, quite understandably, unwilling to be drawn into the controversy surrounding the Test selection of his Yorkshire teammate, Adil Rashid, who opted out of playing red-ball cricket for his county earlier this year. But he is optimistic that Rashid will be able to put aside the rumblings that have followed his England call-up.
“That is for them to deal with,” Bairstow said. “That is for Yorkshire to deal with and Adil. That is something I am sure will be in the background but, at the same time, he has now been picked in a Test squad to represent England.
“The biggest honour you can have is to go out and play Test cricket for England. I think deep, deep down, Yorkshire will be chuffed to pieces that another one of their players is going out and hopefully representing their country in one of the biggest series there is to play.”
Bairstow knows Rashid better than most: the two Yorkshiremen have been playing together since they were teenagers, although Rashid is two years older, and Bairstow believes the legspinner is a better bowler now than when he last played for England against India in December 2016.
“I think he has matured a lot,” said Bairstow. “You can see that in the way that he is starting, the way he is bowling in the Powerplays in one-day cricket. And I don’t think that’s hyping him up too much, yes he hasn’t played red-ball cricket – he has played white-ball cricket – but if he is landing his legspinner, if he is landing his googly, he just has to do it a few more times other than the 10 overs he has been bowling.
“At the same time people are not necessarily [going to] come at him as hard in red-ball cricket as they will in white so the shape he gets on the ball, the line he might bowl, the length he might bowl, might differ as well. It is an exciting challenge for him, as for us all, going from white-ball cricket to red-ball cricket.
The national selector, Ed Smith, has denied that Rashid’s call-up was heavily influenced by the leg-break he bowled to dismiss Virat Kohli in England’s victory over India in the third ODI at Headingley. Rashid took Kohli’s wicket twice during the ODI series and there has been speculation the Indian captain’s stunned reaction after missing the Headingley delivery, which Rashid later described as one of the best balls he has bowled at the highest level, may have significantly helped his selection.
“He has bowled me with plenty of legbreaks over the years,” said Bairstow. “It is not just that one ball that he will get remembered for. For the rest of the balls he bowled, he’s used his googlies, varied his pace, he’s come over the top of the ball, round the side of it.
“The utilisation of his side spin and top spin was very impressive as well. To have him [Kohli] out, get him stumped then to bowl him was really impressive.
“He obviously bowled really, really nicely in the one-dayers and the way the white ball has been coming out of his hand… it is an exciting call-up for him. He is delighted and I am really excited for him.”