Monday, 23 September
The national selector was at pains to insist that Bairstow still has a future in the Test team. The Yorkshireman, he emphasized repeatedly, has the potential to be a "top, top player" in the longest format for his country.
Ed Smith had two very clear messages for Jonny Bairstow as he explained his omission from England’s Test squad for the tour of New Zealand.
Firstly, he urged the batsman to “reset” after a difficult summer in red-ball cricket.
Secondly, he was at pains to insist that Bairstow still has a future in the Test team. The Yorkshireman, he emphasized repeatedly, has the potential to be a “top, top player” in the longest format for his country.
The statistics of the 2019 home season, however, are less complimentary, and Smith and the rest of the England selection panel are justified in dropping the keeper-batsman.
And be assured, this is the 29-year-old being dropped.
England has otherwise picked what they consider to be their full-strength squad, of those available, with many of the senior multi-format stars rested for the five-match T20I tour which precedes the main event instead.
To try to dress this up as the player being given a breather for the Tests, Smith admitted, would be a “cop-out”.
It will be strange for Bairstow - who is included in the white-ball 15 - to be heading off home when his teammates arrive in New Zealand in late November, but perhaps it is a move that Smith simply had to make.
After all, Bairstow has endured a wretched red-ball summer. He averaged just 23.77 with the bat in the Ashes, with one half-century, and struggled against the seaming ball; those hard-handed drives which so dominate white-ball attacks letting him down on many an occasion.
“Jonny is a very talented cricketer. We believe he has the potential to be a top, top player in Test cricket for England,” Smith said.
“He has played a lot in all forms and a very hectic schedule. It is an opportunity for him to reset and work on one or two things.
“My prediction is he comes back stronger and had a very good career in Test cricket for England.”
Smith spoke to Bairstow over the phone to inform him of the news on Monday - it was the first the player had heard of the decision - and the national selector will see him personally, alongside England selector James Taylor, on Wednesday to discuss the matter further.
Bairstow is a notoriously competitive character and how he reacts to this disappointment in the immediate future may well determine his career pathway. That there is no first-class cricket for him to impress in between now and the start of the South Africa Tests in December puts him at a major disadvantage.
However, Smith is in no way casting Bairstow off entirely. He referenced his non-Test first-class average of 57 - a figure rivaled only by Ollie Pope and Joe Root among his peers - and his performances in other series and formats.
It is not all that long, after all, since Bairstow roared in defiance after grinding out a century in Colombo when his place was similarly under scrutiny.
That, though, was when he did not have the gloves. And there is an argument that Bairstow’s wicketkeeping is adversely affecting his performance with the bat in hand.
“Returning to the gloves, he’s had a more difficult spell with the bat. I think the important thing to focus on there was Jonny was picked as a batsman in 2012 as the outstanding young batsman in England,” Smith said. He admitted to choosing his words carefully.
So does England’s selector see Bairstow’s Test future as a specialist batsman?
“I wouldn’t specify that,” he said. “As I’ve said to him, I do believe Jonny has the potential to be a top, top Test match player.
“That’s something we’ll talk about that on Wednesday, and before and after that too. Jonny knows he can be in touch with me any time about all those things.
“The underlying facts are, Jonny is a very talented player who has produced match-winning performances in all formats. His one-day form has been outstanding, his T20 form more generally has been equally good.
“In Test cricket, he’s had a more difficult time. I’m backing him to bounce back from this.”
Smith was asked whether Bairstow needs to reset how he can best contribute to the England Test team.
“I think that’s a fair summary,” he said. “I think he’s got a lot to offer. It just felt like a good opportunity for that to happen now, for him to take a break and to have that reset now, and come back stronger.”
Jos Buttler will take over wicketkeeping duties in New Zealand, with Ollie Pope able to fill in should there be the need. Ben Foakes, who was called off his holiday to join up with the squad in Sri Lanka last year and ended up being named player of the series, will be on standby this time around. Foakes is considered among the domestic game’s very best glovemen but his County Championship batting average of 27 from 22 innings in 2019 has not been up to his high standards.
England will have a handful of other players on a standby list, but Smith did not want to divulge their identities.
ENGLAND TEST SQUAD vs NEW ZEALAND
Joe Root, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Saqib Mahmood, Matthew Parkinson, Ollie Pope, Dominic Sibley, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes
Bairstow’s omission was the primary story of many as the squads for the two-Test and five-T20I tour were announced on Monday.
Saqib Mahmood and Matt Parkinson, the Lancashire seamer and legspinner, each feature in the two traveling parties, while Dom Sibley is rewarded for the weight of runs in the County Championship and bolsters the England top order.
Kent’s Zak Crawley, a hugely rated young opening batsman, also gets the nod. Their inclusion, plus the presence of Rory Burns and Joe Denly, will allow Joe Root to drop back to No.4.
In a first-choice scenario, the captain would be followed in the middle order by Ben Stokes, Pope, and Buttler.
Jason Roy has been dropped from the Test team and rested from the white-ball setup. Not that he is going to get much of a break from the game: he is currently listed as Nelson Mandela Bay Giants' marquee player in South Africa’s domestic T20 tournament, the Mzansi Super League, while is due to begin on November 8.
With head coach Trevor Bayliss having departed after the Ashes, Smith was aided in his selection decisions by England coaches Chris Silverwood and Graham Thorpe, as well as his network of scouts, who have been keeping abreast of performances in the County Championship this season.
The squad picked for New Zealand will be seen as a success for the Championship, with many of the county game’s top performers being allowed to impress.
It will be fascinating to see if Sibley can bring his staying power - he has faced more than 1,000 balls more than any other batsman in Division One this season - to the international arena.
Pope, meanwhile, will have the chance to bat lower in the order in a role which is more natural to him, an important factor after England threw him in at No.4 last summer, at which point he had not batted that high for his county Surrey.
Jimmy Anderson and Mark Wood are not fit to feature as they continue to battle ongoing injury issues. Olly Stone, the Warwickshire seamer, has also been ruled out. England is concerned that his problem - a recurrence of a stress fracture in his back - will keep him sidelined for longer than Anderson and Wood.
The headline, however, belongs to Bairstow. Can he “reset”? And will he be the Test player Smith wants him to be?