Jonny Bairstow admits his emotions will be “mixed” when he boards a flight home from Colombo tomorrow with Sam Curran and Mark Wood, England’s other rested players, rather than the charter to Chennai with the rest of the squad
Returning to Test cricket, Bairstow has had a good time of it in Sri Lanka. From No3, with a highest opening partnership of 17, he made 139 runs at an average of 46 and was involved in two of England’s three stands of more than 100 (both, obviously, with Joe Root). He finished the chase in the First Test and played a vital hand, injecting impetus, in yesterday’s second.
"I’ve absolutely loved being back,” he says. “I was a bit emotional yesterday being being back in the dressing room when you’ve won a series reaffirms why you keep doing it and never give up. It’s special.
“I’d have liked to get a big score but I’m really happy with how I’ve played having not played a huge amount of red ball cricket for a little while, to come back in and spend the amount of time at the crease and contribute the way I have is really pleasing.”
So it looks a little odd to see a strong player of spin – confident, in form and recently recalled – flying home on the eve of a huge series. It was a decision made for him during the Sri Lanka tour (suggesting a growing Test stature), but there are no complaints. As an all-formatter he knows he cannot play every game this year. “If they they hadn’t given me the break now, then when?” he says.
For a player without a Test contract, the white-ball matches in India and the IPL that follows are key preparation for the T20 World Cup. Travel logistics and quarantine requirements mean it is a case of missing the first two, or the last three, like Jos Buttler. Otherwise, he is in India until the end of May, then straight into an English summer that rolls, uninterrupted, into a winter containing the T20 World Cup and an Ashes. All that after being at home for a matter of days in the second half of 2020.
“It’s the way of the world at the moment. There’s no one who plays all three formats who is doing the whole tour,” he says. “It’s tricky. It’s a huge summer and winter and sadly you can’t do everything. You do need to get out of the bubble and see your loved ones.”
Bairstow is desperate to make England’s No3 position his own. The pandemic – and the restriction of player movement it caused – meant he played just two red-ball matches all year. But he worked hard on his technique to straight pace bowling (some of it with Jacques Kallis, even before the Sri Lanka tour), and “absolutely” wants to bat first drop in all conditions.
“It was frustrating because I wanted to prove that I could play red-ball cricket, which I hold so dearly,” he says. “My aspirations are to play Test cricket for as long as possible.
“I tried to play in between bubbles but it’s hard to properly get your teeth stuck into it, because going and playing a game for Yorkshire is not the same as a Test series, with a lead-in to get your game and mindset in order.
“People won’t have seen the technical side of things that’s gone on during this series, it’s been a lot more spin dominant. But in the few bits of pace they bowled, there is a considerable difference to my setup. That’s something I’ll be going forward with.
“After a rest, I’ll be raring to go in India.”