No 1 for cricket

With se­lec­tion and the bat­ting or­der ‘fluid’, to say the least, cur­rent regime is still full of sur­prises

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - PAUL HAYWARD CHIEF SPORTS WRITER AT THE AGEAS BOWL

Paul Hayward, Scyld Berry, Nick Hoult and Tim Wigmore with the best re­ports, anal­y­sis and opin­ion from the Ageas Bowl

This Eng­land camp has dou­bled up as a ca­reers fair, with bats­men and wick­et­keep­ers lin­ing up to be told which job suits them best. With all this shift­ing around, Eng­land have bor­rowed an idea from the Dutch and cre­ated “To­tal Cricket”.

Drinks all round for Eng­land’s all-rounders, who have pre­served Eng­land’s ad­van­tage in this se­ries. To an out­sider, the fuss around whether a bats­man should come in at five or six can seem a bit neu­rotic. This Test has set a new level of de­bate about the or­der in which peo­ple should leave the pavil­ion. Moeen Ali, for ex­am­ple, moved up from seven to three for Eng­land’s sec­ond in­nings, but Jonny Bairstow, bowled by Mohammed Shami first ball, seems dis­con­certed by be­ing pro­moted. More so, by the pos­si­ble long-term loss of the wick­et­keep­ing gloves to Jos But­tler.

A bro­ken finger from Trent Bridge pre­cluded Bairstow from crouch­ing be­hind the stumps here at the Ageas Bowl. He can have no com­plaint about be­ing pro­tected from a bullet that might slam into his hand at 80mph. But there are po­lit­i­cal ram­i­fi­ca­tions. There has been a shift this sum­mer to­wards squad ro­ta­tion, flex­i­ble de­ploy­ment and, crit­ics could ar­gue, a ten­dency to over-think the search for spe­cial­ist bats­men, the area where Eng­land are weak­est.

The open­ers, Alas­tair Cook and Keaton Jen­nings, we know all about. They are in deep trou­ble. There is sim­ply no base on which Eng­land’s mid­dle or­der can build. Mu­si­cal chairs have taken over. Eng­land started this week with Joe Root, Bairstow, Ben Stokes and But­tler all higher than they would want to be, and Moeen, who scored 219 for Worces­ter­shire bat­ting at No3, ini­tially com­ing in at seven.

Moeen, who scored 40 in Eng­land’s first in­nings, shot up to three sec­ond time round but lasted only 15 balls. This al­lowed Root to drop back to four, but only 19 min­utes later. The dif­fer­ence is neg­li­gi­ble.

As But­tler led the fight to set In­dia a tough tar­get on a bliss­ful Hamp­shire af­ter­noon, pol­i­tics took a back seat. But you can bet your boat that Bairstow’s grouch­i­ness will have grown. In ef­fect, Eng­land used his bro­ken finger at Trent Bridge to ac­cel­er­ate a move to turn him into a spe­cial­ist bats­men. But­tler is now “triple-glazed” as vice-cap­tain, keeper and No7 bats­men, while Bairstow has lost the gloves – pos­si­bly per­ma­nently – and has been dis­com­bob­u­lated at the crease. Bairstow went lbw to Shami for six in the first in­nings and lost his leg stump after lunch yes­ter­day, push­ing his bat through at a ris­ing ball while leav­ing his feet be­hind. It was the shot of a man not think­ing, or not set­tled.

And Bairstow is never slow to de­fend his cor­ner. “If you look at the stats, they sug­gest I’m bet­ter if I keep wicket as well,” he has said.

“You’re kind of en­ter­ing into un­charted ter­ri­tory and, as I men­tioned, I’d like to keep my spot as keeper be­cause I like to think it’s gone well over the last 38 or 39 Tests since I’ve been keep­ing for Eng­land.”

Con­trast that with Root’s an­nounce­ment in Southamp­ton: “We’re very for­tu­nate to have two fan­tas­tic op­tions in Jos and Jonny. Jonny is ob­vi­ously frus­trated and disappointed as he loves do­ing the job. He’s done ex­tremely well over the last cou­ple of years. But that’s part of in­ter­na­tional sport. You don’t al­ways get what you want. There are no guar­an­tees in in­ter­na­tional sport. It [Bairstow’s finger in­jury] has opened the door for some­one else. Jos has an op­por­tu­nity for this game and po­ten­tially the rest of the se­ries and I think that’s a good thing in terms of development for this group.”

All this will need sort­ing out. But the im­pe­tus, cur­rently, is with But­tler, who scored his maiden Test cen­tury at Trent Bridge and struck 69 off 164 balls while post­ing a 50-run part­ner­ship with Stokes – his ac­com­plice too in Not­ting­ham – as Eng­land turned the tide against In­dia on the south coast.

The big­ger pic­ture is Eng­land’s will­ing­ness to im­pro­vise and ro­tate, foot­ball-style (Bairstow v But­tler is still a lit­tle way short of Peter Shilton ver­sus Ray Cle­mence for the Eng­land goal­keeper’s jer­sey). Two ex­am­ples are Sam Cur­ran be­ing dropped for Stokes, de­spite his player-of-the-match award at Edg­bas­ton, and Ol­lie Pope com­ing in at four de­spite play­ing at six for his county – and then be­ing bombed for Southamp­ton.

Of that de­ci­sion, Root said: “The think­ing is purely for the bal­ance of the side. It is no re­flec­tion on how he has gone in the first two games. We could get to the Oval and it’ll be very dif­fer­ent again – that’s be­ing a part of a squad. At all times, you’re not far away from play­ing. It doesn’t just take 11 guys to win a se­ries.”

So this is a squad game now, and purists had bet­ter get used to it. But will Bairstow? “You don’t al­ways get what you want” is a new di­rec­tion. Root and the Eng­land man­age­ment need a se­ries win against In­dia if To­tal Cricket is to be­come the new re­li­gion.

There is no base and now mu­si­cal chairs have taken over

Skit­tled: Jonny Bairstow falls first ball to Mohammed Shami

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