Jonny Bairstow misses milestone but makes his mark with 98

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Jan
18

England XI 379 (Bairstow 98, Burns 68) v WI President’s XI
Scorecard

Just under four years ago, Jonny Bairstow made an eye-catching 98 at the start of an England tour of the Caribbean to signal a new phase in his career.

In that match, Bairstow unveiled his new, shoulder-high backlift; a technical change that helped improve his balance and bring his bat down straighter. By the end of 2016, he had set a new record for the most Test runs by a wicketkeeper in a calendar year.

This time he is facing a different challenge. Having lost the gloves, for a while anyway, to Ben Foakes, he has been forced to reinvent himself as a specialist batsman. And with the middle-order positions taken, he knows that he must establish himself at No. 3 if he is to retain a place in the side.

It’s not his ideal position; he makes no secret of his desire to reclaim the wicketkeeping gloves. And there may be, he warns, a “bedding-in period” as he adapts to the mental and technical demands of the position.

But the early signs are that the challenge may bring the best out of him. Having ended the Sri Lanka tour with a century in Colombo, he made another 98 here that suggested he could yet develop into the man England have been looking for since the decline of Jonathan Trott.

There are, of course, some caveats. This pitch – while better than the surface used in the first warm-up match – is slower than those anticipated in the Test series (in Barbados and St Lucia, in particular) while the attack, despite containing two bowlers with Test experience, is nowhere near as demanding.

The fact that England scored nearly 400 in the day – and that they took 19 wickets against the same opposition the previous day – tells you much about the chasm in quality between these two sides.

Still, this was a much-improved effort from Bairstow after a loose dismissal in the first warm-up game. England have been struck by how much this version of the Duke’s ball has swung and for how long it has remained hard. As a consequence, top-order batsmen have had to leave well and ensure they remain as compact as possible. His driving and sweeping, in particular, were very impressive.

“I just want to be playing,” Bairstow said afterwards. “At this moment in time I’m batting at three; who knows what will happen down the line. Down the line you want to be doing something you’ve done the last 10-15 years.

“It’s a case of going out and doing what I need to do and trying to adapt again to a different role in the side. You’re probably going to be facing the new ball, fresher bowlers on fresher pitches, so there will be a bedding-in period and you might not get it right every time. It will be different to batting at No. 5, 6 or 7 and coming in later in the day.”

Underlining the low-key nature of this match, Bairstow fell – caught on the midwicket fence – attempting to reach his century with a six. Moments earlier, when he had 94, he had been reprieved after it transpired Miguel Cummins had over-stepped when having Bairstow caught at mid-off.

But such ‘milestones’ hardly matter. Not only will none of the scores from these games count towards the players’ career statistics – these matches do not carry first-class status – they are more about gaining form and fluency ahead of the serious business ahead. Bairstow, at least, should go into the Test series with confidence high.

So should Rory Burns. Having seen off the new ball with admirable ease, he appeared every bit as fluent as Bairstow in making a 65-ball 50 with eight fours. Especially punishing against the short ball – be it from pace or seam – he also put away anything over-pitched. He was eventually stumped attempting to drag one from outside off through midwicket.

There were runs for Sam Curran, Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid, too. Taking full toll of a tiring attack and some support bowlers, all three looked in fine form and underlined the impression that England’s lower middle-order may well prove vital once again.

Where once there may have been concerns about Jos Buttler missing out – he fell to an outside edge as he attempted to guide one down to third man and goes into the Test series having had just one bat on tour – these things are viewed differently these days. England will take comfort in the form he showed in the BBL and trust to his training and temperament to ensure he is ready for the first Test. Ben Stokes and Joe Root were both rested, though Stokes may bowl on Friday.

Moeen Ali, meanwhile, was unable to take advantage of a let-off on 1 – Jermaine Blackwell, who is having a grim few days, dropped a straightforward chance in the slips – while Keaton Jennings again fell early as he prodded half forward to the admirable Raymon Reifer.

Reifer, a left-arm swing bowler somewhat in the style of Keith Barker, was the pick of the bowlers, though Cummins and Chemar Holder also had their moments. Alzarri Joseph was rested in the hope he might be fully fit for the first Test.

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