Tuesday 13 August 2013

Bairstow's nervous wait

Jonny Bairstow had to wait. Cricket is cruel like that. Not the seven weeks he went without a first-class game in the build up to this series. Rather the 47 hours between the end of his tortured first innings and the start his second.

Other sports distract their players by forcing them to play. Cricket refuses that get-out clause. Instead the mind is allowed to fester in the long pauses that outstretch action in any Test match.

At 23 Bairstow is having his technique publicly severed. The tag-lines are building. Ravi Bopara's Test match career can't be discussed without reference to being "found out by Australia" and Bairstow is watching the same thing envelope him.

In 2009 Bopara, batting No. 3, shambled 105 runs at 15 before being cut loose for The Oval finale. Bairstow has 203 at 29 in this series. The backroom army would have routines to try and help him "stay in the present" and "focus on processes" but he would not be human if his mind didn't wander.

Right now his team-mates are being celebrated for their stirring late-evening victory dash. Nestled in the eulogies, though, are questions over Bairstow's position.

Waking up on day three – with Australia 222 for 5 overnight - he would have known his second innings was coming. But it didn't until well into the final session of the day. Until then his contribution had been nothing beyond the 77-ball first-innings ordeal.

Of course Bairstow is used to batting down the order and waiting his turn. He's done that for Yorkshire throughout his career. But usually as a wicketkeeper. The dual role may help liberate his free-wheeling natural game. Shawn of wicketkeeping duties his batting comes under even closer scrutiny.

Since Paul Collingwood's retirement at the end of the 2010/11 Ashes England have trialled six middle-order pretenders in 31 matches. Collectively they average 27.5. Joe Root was the one outright success but that only propelled him to the top of the order.

The instability – especially the manner of Nick Compton and James Taylor's dropping - was another thing Bairstow had to mull over as he waited for that second chance. When it did finally come England were only 123 ahead and tottering. It was an match-defining opportunity to grab.

He didn't quite do so, making 28 before an underwhelming edge behind off Nathan Lyon. Yet Bairstow should take solace from the fact he found some freedom in the last-chance saloon. Just like Collingwood used to. His innings was brief but studded with six boundaries and was decisive while it lasted. It suggests he has the fortitude to overcome cricket's peculiar rhythms, even if his technique remains doubtful.

He has another nervous wait now before the squad for the final Test is announced. His positive second-innings batting might just have earned him a reprieve. If England are certain they don't want a No. 6 who can bowl, Bairstow deserves another chance.

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