“The stage is all set and selectors have shown immense faith in Bairstow’s abilities by asking him to bat at five. Will he deliver”?
England have now remained wicketless in their last seven Test outings against Australia and New Zealand respectively. They would be hoping for a turnaround in the upcoming series against Pakistan at home and seek revival of fortunes. England have already announced their 12-man squad for the series opener at Lord’s and the side looks promising, on paper to say the least. There are fewer loopholes and the series at home would be an ideal platform for them to resurrect it.
One wouldn’t be wrong in saying that England’s batting in the recent times has been quite one-dimensional; they either have accumulators or aggressors in their line-up. But the elevation of Joe Root at 3, the return of Ben Stokes, along with Bairstow at 5 and the canny inclusion of Jos Buttler will change the scenario to a great extent. One-dimensional batting makes it easy for the opposition to formulate plans and execute it well.
Bairstow spoke about his elevation to five and said it as a proud feeling. He was quoted in a report from ESPNCricinfo saying, “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. 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.”
The changes in batting order will only restructure it for good. Bairstow’s rise in this England side has been irresistible to watch. He has been prolific for England and has done a good job in both the formats. He has grown in stature and has managed to replicate his magic in the 50-over format as well. In Tests, England doesn’t have a great batting line-up to begin with. Their opening slot still looks vulnerable, which has been a huge matter of concern for a while now. They need some solidity in the top six and Bairstow seems to be an apt election for five.
Bairstow has the experience of batting at number five, he has done it on 19 occasions for England till date. He may not have impressive numbers to back it up, but he is a totally different batsman now. An average of just over 30 at five may not look staggering, but anyone who has followed Bairstow in the recent times, would rate him as one of the finest in this line-up. If truth be told, Bairstow has been one of the most impactful wicketkeeper-batsmen in world cricket in the recent times.
Bairstow has been very productive at 6 and 7, averaging 42.66 and 42.35 respectively. But his potential has not been utilised to the fullest, mainly because he was left with the lower-order and tail. Although he has mastered the art of batting with the tail-enders, but could be more fruitful at five. He doesn’t have a settled batting-order above him.
Bairstow commenced his last Test season while batting at number five, but that didn’t last for very long. He batted at five in two games against South Africa after which, he was demoted in the batting order. In the Ashes and the series against New Zealand, he often oscillated between six and seven and ended the season with an emphatic century against Kiwis at Christchurch while batting at seven.
Bairstow banks on sound technique and has a solid defence in his armoury, which is the base to success against the red ball. He has a knack for putting a huge price tag on his wicket and the series against Pakistan would be an ideal platform for him to settle down in the top six. He has batted at five for a very long time for Yorkshire. One also cannot overlook the kind of efforts Bairstow will be putting while batting at five and wicketkeeping.
“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. 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 challenged 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,” Bairstow was quoted by ESPNCricinfo while speaking at the launch of New Balance kits.
One shouldn’t forget, Jos Buttler’s inclusion certainly provides a cushion for Bairstow behind the stumps. The former has been effective with the gloves and if needed can do the job quite well. Not just as a batsman, Bairstow has also shown tremendous signs of improvement as a wicketkeeper.
“I think there’s an understanding among all of us that anyone can keep wicket on any given day, given the opportunity. 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,” Bairstow added.
The stage is all set and selectors have shown immense faith in Bairstow’s abilities by asking him to bat at five. Will he deliver? Will he be able to cope up with the pressure and hard work? Too many questions, but the signs are promising. It’s a smart move to let Bairstow bat at five and the beast should look to grab it with both the hands.