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Ashley Giles backs Jonny Bairstow to fight to regain Test berth after losing central contract

Mark Wood also handed white-ball contract only after limited Test appearances in 2020

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Ashley Giles, England's director of men's cricket, believes that Jonny Bairstow still has the hunger to regain his Test place, despite his exclusion from the ECB's list of red-ball contracts for 2020-21.
Bairstow, who turned 31 this week, has played just one Test match in the past 12 months, making scores of 1 and 9 against South Africa at Centurion after being called into the team as a late replacement for Ollie Pope, one of the men who has now taken his place on that contracts list.
Bairstow had previously been omitted from England's Test squad to tour New Zealand last November, after averaging 23.77 in a low-key Ashes series - a far cry from his form in the 2016 calendar year, when he amassed 1470 runs at 58.80 in 17 Tests.
He has instead been awarded a white-ball contract, having reaffirmed his status as one of the world's premier limited-overs batsmen with a series of commanding displays this summer against Ireland, Pakistan and Australia, against whom he scored his tenth ODI hundred in the final match of the season at the Ageas Bowl.
With Jos Buttler tightening his grip on the Test wicketkeeper's role against Pakistan, and with a trio of young batsmen - Pope, Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley - earning their first Test contracts following their recent breakthrough performances, Bairstow's route back to the Test side is not an easy one, but Giles backed him to fight for his place nonetheless.
"He's taken it as well as you could expect, because it's hard news to hear, but I hope it leaves him very hungry to continue, and have a really important part to play in the future of English Test cricket," Giles said. "It's a knock for him I'm sure. Johnny's played one Test match in the year, and we only have so many contracts that we can award.
"It's a tough call to make because Jonny has been very good servant for the team, but he remains a really important part of what we do. He's a white-ball centrally contracted player and one of our most dangerous players in that format, and that hasn't changed, but we'll do everything we can to support him getting back into that Test team.
Another notable absentee on the Test list is Mark Wood, who appeared to have confirmed his arrival in red-ball cricket when he was named player of the match twice in the space of three overseas Tests last year, following a pair of searingly quick displays in St Lucia and Johannesburg.
Despite his ability to bowl well in excess of 90mph - a trait which makes him one of their most precious assets in the lead-up to next winter's Ashes tour - Wood featured in just three Tests all told in the past 12 months, including a solitary outing in England's defeat against West Indies at the Ageas Bowl in July.
And, given the financial constraints being imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic - ones which may yet require England's players to take a pay cut this year - Giles admitted that there were others ahead of Wood in the pecking order for a contract right now.
"He'd certainly be my plans and I'm sure he's in the selectors' plans," Giles said. "The impact Mark Wood has is huge when he's on the field, but in terms of that pecking order, Sam Curran for example, may be seen as someone who's in and out of the team, but he's played eight Test matches, and has also impacted every match when he takes the field."
Wood, like Bairstow, has been handed a white-ball contract, and as Giles noted, that will still enable the ECB to keep a close eye on his form and, most pertinently, his fitness, given the frequency of the injuries that have pockmarked his career.
"He plays across formats, he's still under our umbrella," Giles said. "He's a fully white-ball contracted player, so we look after him. And we understand his shock ability. When he's on form and when he's on the field we need to look after that, and having him available for an Ashes series is really important to us."
England's winter itinerary remains up in the air, with no confirmation as yet of any plans for their tours of South Africa, Sri Lanka and India. But with Australia's Big Bash set to take place in December and January, Giles said that Wood may well be free to play a part in that tournament, in spite of the injury risks.
"We'll treat every case as an individual," he said. "Ultimately we are his employer and paymasters, but it will be a discussion and collaboration. We want to do what's best for Mark Wood. It doesn't make any sense him just sitting on the sidelines all the time when he's fit, but we need to get that balance and workload right."
One continued area of concern for England is the absence of a contracted Test spinner, especially with tours of the subcontinent looming for England. Despite his recent dip in form, Moeen Ali has retained his white-ball contract, but there's no place on either list for Jack Leach or Dom Bess, who who have been awarded incremental contracts instead.
"It is an area that we still need to work on," Giles said "Jack and Dom have played important roles for us, and Dom made really good progress this summer, but again there are only so many awards to be made. I hope we see one of those guys develop over this next 12 months again, because I'd love to be offering a full contract to one of our spinners, definitely."
England's outstanding spinner of the past 12 months, albeit in white-ball cricket only, has been Adil Rashid, who appeared to be fully recovered from the shoulder injury that hampered his impact at the World Cup. He has not played Test cricket for England since the first Test in Barbados in January 2019, which was also his most recent first-class appearance, but Giles admitted England had not ruled out considering him for the challenge of beating India overseas.
"Those conversations are always ongoing with the coach and selectors," he said. "We need to give ourselves options. The challenge of winning in India is a big one - I don't think anyone's underestimating that - but the more variation we can have in our attack, the better.
"We're lucky with the impact Adil's had on white-ball cricket particularly, but I hope he still has the desire, and I'm sure he still has the ability, to have an impact in red-ball cricket as well."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket