Goalkeeping work helps Bairstow balance
Paul Farbrace, England's assistant coach, has hailed Jonny Bairstow for the improvement in his wicketkeeping since the tour of South Africa and pinpointed work he did with Newcastle United football club.
Bairstow was awarded the Man-of-the-Match award after the first Investec Test for a performance that included the only century of the game and nine catches behind the stumps. It was the second time in three Tests that Bairstow has claimed nine catches.
But there were also several drops during the series in South Africa and Bairstow went into the Test against Sri Lanka with questions to answer about his suitability for the gloves. While one chance still went down on the third day, it was a performance that greatly encouraged Farbrace, a former wicketkeeper with Kent and Middlesex.
Specifically, Farbrace felt Bairstow's balance behind the stumps was much improved and credited England's wicketkeeping coach, Bruce French, and a session spent with Newcastle learning tips from their goalkeepers for the progression.
"The challenge we set him after South Africa was that you will play the Sri Lanka series and you will have the gloves, but we want a consistent wicketkeeper," Farbrace said. "The wicketkeeper is picked first and foremost to take his catches and any run he scores is a bonus. The keeper sets the trend and the fielding level so if he is taking his catches everyone else takes confidence from that.
"In South Africa he looked unbalanced. Predominantly he stood a fraction too wide and therefore, as the ball was delivered into the line of off stump and took the outside edge, his first movement was on to his left foot.
"If you get a nick from there you're off balance. You are diving backwards and the shape of your hand is almost behind you. When set still you can dive forwards and sideways and then your full hand is facing the ball. The only chance he dropped in this game he got done by the angle of the ball. The rest of the game, I thought he kept incredibly well.
"I honestly think in the two months he has been away from South Africa he has worked hard on his game. He looked balanced and he looked very strong in his movements.
"He and Bruce French have worked hard and that has really helped him. It is much easier to concentrate if you think you are going to get a nick every ball, as opposed to one coming past the bat every 25 minutes.
"And he had a session with the goalkeeping coaches at Newcastle on balance and shape of the body. He really enjoyed that and got a lot from it. Simon Smith, who is their goalkeeping coach, and their keepers, Karl Darlow and Rob Elliot, had a session with him. They had a really good day making sure he was balanced before moving one way or another."
Farbrace confirmed that the England management have discussed moving Bairstow up to No. 5 in the batting line-up and have considered playing both him and Jos Buttler in the same side. With Bairstow now assured of the gloves for the foreseeable future, though, Buttler would need to score heavily in first-class cricket to win a recall as a specialist batsman. That seems unlikely, with his decision to play in the IPL excluding him from the first part of the Championship season and his involvement with the England limited-overs squads likely to rule him out of much of the rest of it.
"We have had a lot of discussions with our top order talking about getting the balance right," Farbrace said. "If you can get Bairstow and Buttler in the same side that would be very exciting.
"We have talked about whether Jonny should bat at five. It is a bit like Root: when they are playing that well where do you bat them? Generally your best players bat at three. But he is playing out of his boots at four so maybe leave him reasonably happy with that."
It is more likely that the pair could feature together in limited-overs cricket. Certainly Bairstow's form with the bat is making a strong case for his inclusion in all formats, with Farbrace admitting he has "every chance" for forcing his way in.
"You could argue he should be in all forms of our game," Farbrace said. "If he keeps playing like that then he gives himself a great chance.
"He is like most cricketers in that he thrives on confidence. He is loving the big occasion. There was a bit of pressure here. He talked about how he wanted to score a hundred at Headingley and in his first few runs you thought 'crikey, he is going to get a hundred'.
"The big thing is to play your own way. We are not trying to complicate it. With Jonny it is: "good luck, go and play." It must be a brilliant place for him. Let's hope he keeps going for a number of years."
Farbrace also had warm praise for Alex Hales and words of encouragement for Nick Compton. Hales made a patient 86 in the first Test, showing much improved discipline outside off stump, while Compton fell for a duck.
"I have read all the stuff about Nick's intense personality," Farbrace said. "But I have yet to meet a batman at the top level who is not intense about the way they prepare. He is passionate to score runs for England and I think a couple of scores back to back and he will be off and running. I would say his state of mind has been very good.
"He is not a difficult bloke. He is an easy bloke to work with and he is passionate about scoring runs. He has everything you need from a top quality batter.
"We felt in South Africa he showed enough to suggest he can score runs in international cricket. He did not necessarily cement his position but we showed him faith by picking him.
"If Nick bats for a long period there are enough people around him who score quickly. You can't have seven batsmen all looking to hit the ball. You have to have someone to hold the innings together. What gets pushed at players in red or white ball cricket is "play your game". Don't get picked to play for England and change the way you play. There is no pressure from us to put his foot down and start whacking it.
"It was an important innings for Alex, too. I think we saw in South Africa enough signs to show he can play Test cricket. This innings will convince him he can.
"There has been a lot of talk about him being a free scoring batsman but I don't think he is. He is an accumulator. When he scores hundreds, he takes his time getting in."
England will name their team for the second Test at around 9am on Monday morning. Ben Stokes underwent a scan on his sore left knee on Sunday afternoon and the selectors wanted to assess that before making a decision on who to bring into the squad.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo