England in South Africa 2015-16 January 24, 2016

Boucher backs Bairstow to succeed

Jonny Bairstow has been far from flawless in South Africa © AFP

Mark Boucher has urged England to stick with Jonny Bairstow despite his struggles with the gloves in the Test series in South Africa.

Bairstow has, by some estimations, been unable to take seven of the 23 opportunities (until the end of South Africa's first innings in Centurion) that have come his way as wicketkeeper in the four Tests. While a couple of the chances he has missed - not least a stumping opportunity in Durban - have been fiendishly difficult, several have been relatively straightforward by international standards.

In the current match, he missed opportunities against all three centurions - Stephen Cook, Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock - and there were times when his team-mates were unable to hide their frustration.

But Boucher, the most prolific wicketkeeper in Test history, believes Bairstow has "a big future" at the top level and has urged the England selectors not to "mess around with his head" by dropping him now.

While much the same could have been said about Jos Buttler - dropped for Bairstow after his form with the bat fell away - Boucher revealed that he and Bairstow had recently discussed the challenges of the role after Bairstow requested a meeting.

"He just wanted to have a chat with me, I think it was after I did a stint on TV explaining the mental aspects he might be going through and a couple of small technical things that could help him out," Boucher told Press Association Sport.

"For a youngster to speak to a guy who's been in the opposition side was fantastic to see and I used to do the same with people like Ian Healy. He's very keen to learn about his trade.

"It was a very relaxed chat. I just wanted to find out where his head was at and basically told him I'd been through some of the same sorts of things, that he's not the only one who's gone through it and he's not alone."

As Boucher sees it, Bairstow's problems are not so much technical as mental. While he accepted there are some technical adjustments Bairstow can make, Boucher feels that more significant progress can be made with a more resilient attitude and an ability to put any mistakes behind him, so they are not clouding his mind when the next opportunity comes along. He also made the point that Bairstow's batting - which in this series has seen him score more runs than any England player other than Joe Root or Ben Stokes - is highly valuable.

"I think there's a big future for him at this level but he has to be as mentally tough as possible in the face of criticism," said Boucher. "I don't think he needs big technical changes, they are all pretty small. It's more the mental aspect of getting over one or two dropped catches as quick as he can and not letting them affect the next one.

"The step up to test keeping is quite big and he needs to close that gap but his attitude is good enough for him to do it.

"Is he worth having in this England side? Absolutely. You don't want to mess around with his head and drop him now. That's a dangerous move to make because it risks showing a lack of confidence in a youngster's game.

"There is some room for improvement there. He's not a natural keeper but he's proved he has the goods with the bat and there is more than enough talent there for him to become a very, very good allrounder for England."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ed on January 26, 2016, 0:41 GMT

    He's a better test batsman than Hales, Compton, Cook (at moment), so lets give him some time.

  • a on January 25, 2016, 13:22 GMT

    He has been messed around and I would agree its best to just give him an extended run as keeper-batter now. If he doesn't make the keeping side there is no real worry as he is a good enough batter and can be the back up keeper on tours. In this event the alternatives as keeper - including Buttler - are all good enough to bat 8 or above so it should not substantially weaken the order especially given that one would be replacing the weakest of the specialist batters. Specialist batters wise they all need a bit more of a go. Taylor and Compton have been messed around and are good enough and Hales may be good enough. Moeen's batting is disappointing but in the absence of a clearly better spinner than him we may as well just view his batting as an extra.

  • Graham on January 25, 2016, 13:12 GMT

    @john_bnsa - because Rabada isn't a wicket keeper, perhaps? Agree that Woakes is out of his depth. This test would have been the perfect time to give Footit a try out - an opportunity missed, I think.

  • PJ on January 25, 2016, 10:53 GMT

    I'm not sure why Bairstow is being picked out for criticism, not only in this article. Ok, he needs to work on his keeping, but in any case he merits his place as a batsman alone (as his current test form and outstanding performances with Yorkshire would testify). He has also suffered more than most from the vagaries of the selectors' decisions. Meanwhile, Hales, Compton and Taylor look wholly insufficient as test batsmen, Moeen is test quality neither as a batsman or a bowler and the repeated selection of Woakes is totally baffling. A bit of balance please.

  • j on January 25, 2016, 8:43 GMT

    the only really top level keepers are too old to be selected now (Foster should have played more for example) so I am not convinced that picking one of the younger alternatives will solve the problem behind the stumps. I am also not sure he is worse than Prior when he first came into the side. He is a determined guy who works hard so hopefully will make it

  • john on January 25, 2016, 2:52 GMT

    why isn't boucher backing Radaba. Instead he supports the opposition.

  • Chris on January 24, 2016, 21:30 GMT

    Bairstow has already been messed about by ECB over a couple of years with erratic selections, yet when called into an ODI last summer at the last moment following injury to Buttler, produced a fantastic match winning innings. He recently equalled the record for dismissals in one match, and although he missed chances in this game, remember that nobody has a perfect record. Prior was no better when he started in Test cricket. We have seen in this series that he can bat at three different speeds - 100 to 150 in 30 balls, earlier in the same innings supporting Stokes (who was massive) batting at a steady pace without trying to outdo him, and batting for a draw to save the game. Get him some coaching help to fine tune the keeping and BACK HIM.

  • Jon on January 24, 2016, 17:41 GMT

    @WOOAH - Yes Woeful woakes is just simply not up to playing this level. For me the biggest worry has always been and still is Moeen Ali. He can bat but we seem to be settling for his atrocious offies. We have seen how badly he bowls when the pressure is on him to take the bulk of the wickets (ie in UAE) and we can't win in India with an offie that bowls two rank bad balls an over. We desperately need to review spin options again, Moeen is not up to it.

  • haze on January 24, 2016, 16:36 GMT

    Everyone talking about Johnny, but what about woakes. Johnny hopefully will get better as originally he was in team to bat at 5 not keep, so he will need time but Chris woakes ( I am sure he is a lovely guy and 'good tourist') is not the future of England's bowling attack! England need to locate the next guy in and quick, woakes struggles at int nat level far more than his county level stats would elude too, ergo problems run deeper than going back to works and getting better. Stokes and woakes cc stats are similar, yet one has many gears at inter level and the other is struggling to hold gear one in place. Stats are not everything and games are not won on paper, .. Time to move on and look for someone with something special, who perhaps stats have done no justice!

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