Bairstow pays price as Test rebuilding process begins
Sibley and Crawley in squad for New Zealand Mahmood and Parkinson boost bowling attack
Jonny Bairstow became the most high-profile casualty as England set about refreshing their Test squad yesterday, with the wicketkeeperbatsman dropped for the winter tour to New Zealand.
Four uncapped players were named in the squad as England signalled a new era at the outset of another Ashes cycle.
Joe Root, the Test captain, said last week that planning for the 2021-22 Ashes started now and the dropping of Bairstow, a regular for the last four years, was the biggest decision by the selectors, who called up for the first time batsmen Dominic Sibley and Zak Crawley, as well as Lancashire leg-spinner Matt Parkinson and his county colleague, quick bowler Saqib Mahmood. Surrey’s Ollie Pope returns to the Test squad for the first time in a year.
Bairstow was told in a phone call by Ed Smith, the national selector, that he was not part of the squad for two Tests in New Zealand. The Yorkshire player (below) was shocked by the news and thought he would be travelling as firstchoice wicketkeeper after being handed a Test central contract last week. He is due to meet Smith tomorrow to discuss his future, but is understood to be determined to regain his place.
However, Bairstow knows his Test future is likely to be as a specialist batsman. Smith confirmed Jos Buttler would be wicketkeeper in New Zealand and he is set for a long run in the role. The selectors want to see Bairstow concentrating on batting and regaining his form after a year in which he has averaged 20.25 in Test cricket.
Bairstow is renowned for his ability to prove doubters wrong, so Smith hopes dropping him motivates him to address technical issues. Bairstow has a problem being bowled by balls cutting back into him, probably a result of expanding his game in white-ball cricket to become one of the best openers in the one-day game.
“Jonny is a very talented cricketer. We believe he has the potential to be a top, top player in Test cricket. He has played a lot, in all forms, and it’s an opportunity for him to reset and work on one or two things. If I had to give a prediction, it would be that he comes back stronger and has a very good career in Test cricket,” Smith said. “He hasn’t been rested. That would be a cop-out. However, I do see Jonny as being a top batsman, so I would say it’s an opportunity to reset and come back.”
Root will return to his favoured position at No4 and the Test team will now be picked from specialists rather than made up of aggressive all-rounders who shaped the Trevor Bayliss era.
Sibley and Crawley are both openers and will vie to partner Rory Burns at the top of the order. Pope could bat at No 5, ahead of the all-rounders Ben Stokes, at six, and Buttler, at seven.
Pope will deputise as a wicketkeeper, although Ben Foakes has been put on standby in case Buttler suffers a serious injury.
“Joe wants to bat No 4 and, as we’ve discussed, that has impacted on selection. We need three above him and that’s why reserve options or depth is geared towards the top three,” Smith said.
“Joe’s position does affect the structure. We feel we’re comfortable supporting his decision to bat No4. We’re looking to develop a top three to allow him to bat No4.”
Sibley has earned selection through weight of runs for Warwickshire. He is the leading runscorer in county cricket and has faced almost 1,000 more deliveries than any other batsman this summer, suggesting he could give England solidity alongside Burns.
Crawley is more fortunate to be picked and has been called up on potential rather than form. He averages 31 in first-class cricket and, at 21, it is asking a lot to make the step up to Test level.
Parkinson is an attacking legspinner and Root wants variation in his attack. Mahmood is raw, but skilful and tours in the absence of James Anderson, who has not sufficiently recovered from his calf injury.
Anderson and Mark Wood will have to prove their fitness for the South Africa tour at a fast bowlers’ camp in December.
England have rested a number of their senior players from the first half of the tour, which involves five Twenty20 internationals. Root, Stokes, Buttler, Jofra Archer, Jason Roy and Moeen Ali all miss the trip after the draining World Cup and Ashes summer. Moeen had indicated at the weekend he wanted to go to New Zealand but has been told to rest. James Vince and Dawid Malan are old faces in the Twenty20 squad, but there is a first call-up for Somerset’s Tom Banton, the most exciting young white-ball
English batsman in the county game.