Bairstow hopeful of being handed one-day opportunity
Jonny Bairstow admits he is still unsure of his role in England's white-ball set-up, but hopes that the fact he is the man in possession will count in his favour when the one-day squad reconvenes in Durham this week for the one-off T20 ahead of five ODIs against West Indies.
Bairstow became something of a cause célèbre earlier in the summer when, despite a run of form in all formats that any player in the game would envy, he could not force his way into a powerful one-day batting line-up, not even as wicketkeeper, where Jos Buttler is preferred in the shorter formats.
However, Bairstow eventually got his opportunity during England's most recent one-day campaign, the Champions Trophy in June, when Jason Roy's dramatic loss of form became too acute for the management to ignore.
Thrust in to open the batting for the first time in his international career, Bairstow responded with a hard-worked 43 from 57 balls in a low-scoring semi-final against Pakistan at Cardiff, an innings that was put into context by the struggles that his team-mates endured. From a comfortable position of 80 for 1 in the 17th over, Bairstow's dismissal triggered a collapse to 211 all out, and an eventual eight-wicket defeat.
However, with Roy back in form and a fair bet to resume his established partnership with Alex Hales at the top of the order, Bairstow is hopeful but not unrealistic about his chances of being given an extended run in the team.
"I don't mind where I play and bat, as long as I'm in that XI," he said. "I finished the Champions Trophy opening the batting, which I like to think I've done alright. So wherever it is there's an opportunity, hopefully I'll get the nod.
"I've been in and out, one game here and there over a period of time, and at some time it'd be nice to get a decent run, not just one series but a couple of series that you can get your teeth stuck into - into a role, a side and a series."
One small but significant change to Bairstow's standing in the one-day squad is his restoration to reserve keeper duties, following the omission of Sam Billings from the squad to face West Indies. And that, in turn, follows an impressive run of form behind the stumps from Bairstow in the Test side.
"I've been delighted with my keeping this summer," he said. "I've been really really happy with it, it's something I've worked very hard on. There was a lot said about it a year ago, and for people not to be talking about it, that's what you want.
"I like to think I've kept nicely enough over the summer to say that I'm the second keeper in the ODI squad," he added. "If I'm keeping in Tests, for 150 overs, instead of 50 or 20 overs, I'd like to think my keeping is up to scratch to keep in one-dayers as well."
Despite a record-breaking year in 2016, there was still a degree of fallability to Bairstow's technique coming into the English season. However, his upturn in fortunes has stemmed from long hours of practice with Bruce French, the wicketkeeping coach. During the West Indies series, the ball was at times swinging appreciably - particularly for James Anderson and Ben Stokes - but a small technical change helped him adjust to the late movement and cling on to most things that came his way.
"My fingers are cooked!" he joked. "It was swinging, it was wobbling, but that's keeping in England. It was something that's actually quite enjoyable. If it's coming and it wobbles on you, you either take it in the chin or try and catch it.
"That's a big thing that's changed, previously I was catching it closer to my body. Imagine a dinosaur trying to catch it with short arms, you can't go anywhere, whereas if you catch it further out in front and it does wobble, you can give with it and go with it."
The coming one-day series promises to be closely fought, irrespective of West Indies' lowly ranking - at No.9 in the world, they will need to seal an improbable 4-0 or 5-0 scoreline to ensure automatic qualification for the 2019 World Cup.
However, following an improvement in relations between CWI and its star players, most notably Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels, West Indies will field a team that has more in common with the line-up that won the World T20 in India 18 months ago. And Bairstow, who needs no reminding of West Indies' competitive spirit following a hard-fought 2-1 Test series win, is relishing the challenge that awaits in the coming fortnight.
"It's exciting. It's great to be playing a one-day series with them at pretty much full strength," said Bairstow. "But it's important that we concentrate on ourselves. The press completely wrote West Indies off at the start of the [Test] series, which was pretty unfair and uncalled for, and they showed to everyone the strength and character that they have. With any West Indies side, you are going to have a lot of skill, desire and will to prove people wrong. That's the nature of sport and I thought the way they played, especially at Headingley, hats off to them."
Jonny Bairstow was speaking on behalf of Royal London, proud sponsors of One Day cricket. Visit royallondoncricket.com to find out more.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket