By Chris Bailey
If Jonny Bairstow is on the outside looking in as far as England are concerned, his sheer weight of runs will almost certainly batter the front door down before long.
Before his duck against Middlesex last week – instantly forgiven after his first-innings of 125 not out – he had not dipped under 50 runs in his five first-class trips to the crease this season.
England’s loss is Yorkshire’s gain but Bairstow, who has always scored his runs at a brisk pace, will have felt hard done by not to have earned a recall this month.
Selected to keep wicket for May’s rain-abandoned ODI against Ireland, the return of Jos Buttler has seemingly blocked his path into the limited overs series against New Zealand with Kent’s Sam Billings also playing as a specialist batsman.
It means he is still waiting for his first true chance to start afresh with England, having not appeared since his involvement in the fifth Test drubbing that brought up an Ashes whitewash at the start of last year.
But after watching England blast to a best ODI total of 408 in the opener, he is adamant that the team would still be the richer for him – be it behind or solely in front of the stumps.
“The way England are playing suits my game,” said Bairstow. “Whether that be in Test matches, one-days or t20s, the way I play my cricket is suited to the way England are playing.
“I’ve played in all three formats for England already and in the future I think I definitely have a role to play, whether it’s next week or next month and that’s an exciting position to be in.
“Nothing’s changed (with my keeping), it’s been seven years since people first asked me about it.
“The way I see it there’s eight places up for grabs as a batsman and one as a wicketkeeper, there are two strings to my bow and that decision has to be made.
“It’s fantastic to see the scores that have been posted in this series and the way people have gone out and played is a massive positive for us as a country. It’s great to see and long may it continue.
“There’s been a shift in one-day cricket as a whole – 250 doesn’t win games of cricket any more, it’s 350, 400.
“For England to go out and post 400-plus in the first ODI was very pleasing.”
Having spent the series in the West Indies ferrying drinks as an unused squad member amid a full winter schedule with the Lions, if and when he finally plays for England again it will not have been for the want of trying.
But as recent history shows there is no better place to impress the selectors than at Headingley, with Adil Rashid and Liam Plunkett the latest Yorkshiremen to have been picked up on the England radar.
Plunkett has always been in and out of the selectors’ thoughts since 2005 and Rashid, too, has shown bursts and could be in the frame for an Ashes call-up, despite being left bruised this week after Mitchell Santner took his leg-spin to the cleaners at Trent Bridge.
Bairstow, then, is the likely next cab off the rank and insists the prestige of playing for Yorkshire is the perfect preparation.
“My form’s just been a culmination of things, a lot of hard work over the winter and then raring to go ready for the season and bringing that excitement back to the boys at Yorkshire, really wanting to earn that place back in the side,” said Bairstow, who was speaking at a coaching session at Whixley CC in association with Waitrose.
“There are pros and cons to being in the England squad (but not playing). You can look at it that if you’re in there you’re the next man in, which is good, but if you’re not in then you’re not scoring runs for Yorkshire.
“I’m playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world and the stature and pressure that comes with playing for Yorkshire can only stand you in good stead when you pull an England jersey on.
“You look at the way Adil Rashid has come in straight away and scored runs, Liam Plunkett hit 44 off however many balls at the Oval and Joe Root’s record speaks for itself, he’s playing incredibly well.”
Bairstow collected four Test half centuries in his first stint with England but showed some frailties playing across the line, with Mitchell Starc notably uprooting his off-stump on his Ashes debut in 2013.
And, according to Yorkshire chief Jason Gillespie, the flame-haired keeper is currently a “victim of circumstance” after taking a grilling on his last and painful outing with England at the SCG.
But Bairstow is very much of the mindset that what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.
“That (technical issue) has been put to one side, if people have watched me play over the last two years they’ll recognise that isn’t there anymore,” he added.
“I don’t regard myself as a victim, I only played in the last two Tests of the whitewash. As far as I was concerned, playing in the Boxing Day test in front of 92,000 was a fantastic learning experience and if I were to go out there next time, you’ve got experience of playing cricket at its toughest.
“There was pressure under the circumstances, it was not ideal that I hadn’t played cricket for a couple of months before the two Test matches but being out there was incredible.”
This piece originally featured in the Friday June 19 edition of The Cricket Paper.
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