Gloves are off: Jonny Bairstow contemplates route back for England

Jonny Bairstow faces a battle to regain his place in the Test team Getty Images

Whatever pain Jonny Bairstow experienced when he injured his ankle during the limited-overs series in Sri Lanka, it was, you suspect, nothing compared to the pain he has experienced since.

The last few weeks must have been excruciating for Bairstow. Having improved out of all recognition as a keeper and risen, in August 2017, to No. 6 in the Test batting rankings, Bairstow has been powerless as Ben Foakes has come into the side as his injury replacement and seized his chance so well that it isn't easy to see a quick return.

Foakes, who made a high-class century on Test debut in Galle, is not only the highest run-scorer in the series but Jos Buttler said the standard of his glovework had provided "a wake-up call" to his rivals for the wicketkeeping role. So while Bairstow was considered fit for selection for the second Test in Pallekele, he couldn't win a recall. There simply wasn't a position for him.

As a result, Bairstow has had little more than a peripheral role as the England team in which he appeared to be an integral part only a few weeks ago enjoyed one of their biggest triumphs in recent years. That's not to say that Bairstow doesn't wish Foakes and his England team-mates well. But he wouldn't be human if he wasn't hurting.

"Naturally, you're going to be disappointed," he said. "The last two-and-a-half years I've been in the team. And it was only three Tests ago I was in the top 10 batters in the world. And then you're not playing.

"But you don't want to be going around sulking and not helping the lads out. It's about how you manage that disappointment, especially when you're around the group. If you're sapping the energy from the group, that's not a good thing."

That positive reaction to the setback has impressed his colleagues. Both the captain and coach have praised his positive attitude and he is able to see that the competition for places is, in the grand scheme of things, beneficial for the team.

"I just went and trained hard," he replies when asked what he did when he learned he had been left out of the team for the second Test. "I've just been trying to get back in the team. We've competition for places and that's good for the squad.

"We had the same in the ODI side when we got to No. 1 in the world. We're striving to be better, striving to score more runs, striving to be better keepers and take better catches."

He hasn't accepted he has lost the gloves, either. While England coach, Trevor Bayliss, appeared to suggest Bairstow had accepted his way back into the side was as a specialist batsman, Bairstow is not so sure. Reasoning that it only took just a moment of bad luck for him to lose his place, he feels a similar event could see him regain them.

"You don't want to accept that [just being a specialist], do you?" he says. "You don't know what's round the corner. So, I'm working on both my primary skills, like I have done over the last three years.

"You don't know how the make up of sides work, or how injuries happen. We've seen over the last few weeks, how quickly that can come around. So, I'm still working on all my skills. That will continue to be the case."

He is right, too. While Foakes currently looks unassailable, it is likely that, with such strong candidates in the wings, he will never be able to endure more than two or three lean games without questions about his position arising.

So while the selectors are far more consistent than they once were, that sort of scrutiny - from the media, from supporters, from the attention every time Bairstow makes runs at county level - brings pressure. And it is possible that the Ashes will examine different areas in Foakes' game. The Australia bowlers are unlikely to die wondering how he plays the short ball, for example. Not much is permanent in sport.

Bairstow knows, however, that in the meantime his most obvious route back into the side might be as a No. 3. While you don't get the sense he relishes that possibility, he does seem prepared to develop his game and acquire the skills needed.

It's not ideal, though. Bairstow was uncertain about moving up to No. 5 a few months ago and has struggled for consistency subsequently. He has averaged just 23.16 in the seven Tests since the move and, in his five most recent Test innings, has accrued just 24 runs including three ducks. By comparison, he averages 41.96 at No. 6 and 41.03 at No. 7. And all five of his Test centuries (and 13 of his 19 half-centuries) have come at No. 6 or lower.

"In all of the challenges that have been out in front of me, I'd like to think I've recognised them and hopefully combatted them in many ways," he said. "People asked whether I could open the batting in one-day cricket. They asked if I could bat at No. 5. They asked if I could bat at No. 5 and keep wicket. It's not like I've just batted at No. 7 all the time.

"Batting at No. 3 isn't something that I've done much. But when you come in against the second new ball, you're doing the same thing. I might just have to leave a few more balls."

So, what about football? Having suffering a career-interrupting injury playing the sport in warm-up, will be go back to it? It has been noticeable he has acted as referee in recent days.

"I thought I'd broken my ankle," he says. "I thought my tour was over. But it wasn't a tackle or anything like that. I could have done it running. People have made a big hoo-ha that it happened during football, but I actually twisted my ankle on a rope that goes round the boundary. It wasn't like it was a two-footed knee-high tackle that went flying in."

England took a day-off on Tuesday but return to training on Wednesday. There has been, as yet, no confirmation that Sam Curran has been ruled out of the side for the third Test with a side strain, but it does seem unlikely he will be risked.

1800 GMT - This story was updated throughout with embargoed content