Former England skipper Nasser Hussain has opined that the Joe Root-led England side look ‘stronger’ with Jonny Bairstow donning the role of the keeper-batsman.
Incumbent Jos Buttler withdrew from the squad for the fourth Test owing to the birth of his child, and the Lancashire man’s exit paved the way for Bairstow to take back the gloves, something he last did in Ashes 2019. Bairstow donning the gloves will enable England to field a specialist batsman in place of Buttler - either Ollie Pope or Dan Lawrence - with the Yorkshireman himself dropping down to No.6.
With Buttler having averaged a mere 14.40 across the first three Tests in the series, Hussain has commented that the hosts look stronger on paper with Bairstow now taking the gloves.
“Some wondered whether there was room in the same Test side for Buttler and Bairstow, but I think there was — up to a point,” Hussain wrote in his column for the Daily Mail.
“The potential upside of Buttler turning himself into a Test-match force was huge, even if it hasn’t quite happened that way. And the chance for Bairstow to show he’s in the top half-dozen red-ball batsmen in the country had to be looked at. After all, he made that hundred in Colombo from No 3 in November 2018, when he was still bristling at losing the gloves.
“But when you look at the team England are likely to put out on Thursday, with Ollie Pope or Dan Lawrence at No 5, Bairstow at No 6, and Moeen Ali at No 7, you can’t say it’s weaker than the one which won at Headingley.
“Buttler’s keeping has been excellent, but he’s been averaging 14 with the bat.
“Above all, I’d always want Bairstow in my team. I know he can be a bit prickly, but as a captain you don’t just want 10 mates out there agreeing with everything you do.
“So in all respects, England look stronger with Bairstow back in the position of his choice. Now he has to show he’s a better player than his Test average of 33 suggests.”
Having now got the gloves back, Hussain believes that it’s time for Bairstow to deliver the ‘big innings’ that he’s threatened to produce. With scores of 29, 30, 57 and 29 in 4 of his 5 innings thus far this series, the Yorkshireman has looked good, but has failed to convert starts into meaningful scores.
According to Hussain, The Oval Test will be a golden opportunity for the 31-year-old to prove his worth with the bat. Notably, Bairstow averages 37.85 as keeper as opposed to just 27.41 as a specialist batsman.
“He looks more secure having tinkered with his technique. He’s going back and across to off-stump and is trying to hit the ball back where it came from, rather than aiming across the line. He’s in a much better place.
“But he still needs to deliver with a big innings. In this series, his scores have been 29, 30, 57, 2 and 29. Not bad, but he’s got himself in several times without going on to three figures. He knows he can do better.
“That’s why he needs to forget he’s got the gloves again and focus on backing up what many pundits in this country believe — he’s a serious batsman, one of England’s best, and is capable of big hundreds.
“It shouldn’t bother him much that he’s likely to be going in at No 6, where he averages 37 — more than any other position except No 7 — and has scored two of his six Test hundreds. He’s pretty well got what he wants.”