PAUL NEWMAN: Jonny Bairstow is back where he belongs for England

PAUL NEWMAN: Jonny Bairstow has been messed around by England but he is back behind the stumps – where he surely belongs – in the fourth Test against India

  • Jonny Bairstow will keep wicket for England in the fourth Test at the Oval
  • He was stripped of the Test gloves at the conclusion of the 2019 Ashes 
  • The 30-year-old was initially recalled from Test exile solely as a batsman

Few England cricketers have been messed around as much as Jonny Bairstow. Not least when Ed Smith snatched the wicketkeeping gloves away from him at the end of the last Ashes and told him to concentrate on being a specialist batsman.

It was a huge blow for Bairstow because he cherished a dual role that brought out the best in him. And the inference was that Jos Buttler was not only a better all-round red-ball player but also a more important member of the England think-tank.

So it is not without irony to see the wheel turn full circle and Bairstow back behind the stumps for Thursday’s fourth Test, with Buttler missing on paternity leave and, perhaps, for good in the red-ball game.

Jonny Bairstow will keep wicket for England in the fourth Test against India at the Oval

It was understandable that Smith made it his mission to get the hugely gifted Buttler back in the England Test side when he became national selector in April 2018.

But it was harsh when a year later he justified the move by giving him Bairstow’s gloves.

Smith has gone and Bairstow was initially recalled from Test exile solely as a batsman, where he has looked more technically accomplished this summer without going on to a big score.

And now he is back almost where he surely belongs, keeping wicket but batting at six rather than seven where he has had 42 innings for England and has his highest average, 38.59. Do not be surprised if he emerges as a key performer again at the Oval and beyond.

The 30-year-old was initially recalled from Test exile solely as a batsman by England

As for Buttler, it remains uncertain when, or if, we will see him again in Test cricket. Joe Root yesterday would not even rule him out of the final Test at Old Trafford but it would be cruel on Bairstow to hand him the gloves again for a single game.

And Buttler’s Test career remains a curio. He has kept perfectly well this summer but has averaged just 18 with the bat against India and after 53 Tests the jury is still out on whether he can ever replicate his white-ball dominance in the ultimate form of the game.

Buttler remains the next England white-ball captain in waiting and one of the most extraordinary stroke-makers to ever hit a white ball. He should concentrate on that now while Bairstow is at last given the long run in his best position he deserves.

It will a huge mistake to extend the conference system

It should give me, as a once avid but now slightly lapsed Essex fan, huge satisfaction to see them mark the return of County Championship cricket this week with a dominant performance against Glamorgan at Cardiff. 

But it really doesn’t mean anything. Indeed, there is an argument to say all games between now and the end of the month in divisions two and three of the new conference system are the least meaningful in Championship history.

There is nothing really left to play for in divisions two and three of the County Championship

And that is why ECB schedulers will be making a huge mistake if they go ahead with plans to extend the system into next summer. 

It was great at the start of the season, but now it is simply a battle of the top six. And that is not enough.

So England swung the ball round corners on the first day of the third Test while India gained no movement the same day in identical conditions. 

Then India lost two wickets on the third day under grey skies and with the Headingley floodlights on, only to collapse with the sun shining yet with the ball still moving prodigiously the next morning. Truly, the vagaries of swing remain one of cricket’s great mysteries. Or do they?

Not according to Nick Allum, a professor at Essex University who has long insisted that one of the game’s great truisms, that swing is weather related, is almost certainly false. And he has done the research to prove it.

‘The two factors most important to swing are the bowler and the ball,’ said Allum. ‘It’s around 20 per cent down to the choice of ball, another 10 per cent how it ages and about 10 per cent the skill of the bowler. There really isn’t any evidence for cloud equalling swing.’

So the next time you hear a pundit say a captain has to look up rather than down before deciding whether to bat or bowl, ignore them. Frankly it’s a load of balls, new and old.

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