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Jonny Bairstow requests wicketkeeper role at Yorkshire to aid Ashes bid

England batter in race to be fit for Test summer after suffering "horrific" leg break last year

David Hopps
David Hopps
Jonny Bairstow has not played any cricket since September  •  AFP/Getty Images

Jonny Bairstow has not played any cricket since September  •  AFP/Getty Images

Jonny Bairstow's recovery from a "horrific" broken leg means he can still do little more than run in straight lines. But he can think in straight lines, too, and he has identified a return to Yorkshire wicketkeeping duties as necessary to maximise his chances of playing in this summer's Ashes series.
A freak accident when he slipped on a golf course near Harrogate last September left Bairstow with a broken fibula in three places, a dislocated ankle and tendon damage.
After helping to kickstart England's more aggressive era under the Ben Stokes-Brendon McCullum combo, with prolific returns in successive Tests last summer against New Zealand and India, Bairstow has spent the winter as a frustrated onlooker as England have extended a remarkable run to 10 wins in their last 12 Tests and his fellow Yorkshire batter, Harry Brook, has claimed his middle-order place in spectacular fashion.
That Bairstow will recover full fitness in time for the Ashes cannot be taken for granted. Ottis Gibson, Yorkshire's coach, suggested medical opinion was that he might be fit to play some cricket "by the middle to the end of May" - and England's Test opener against Ireland at Lord's begins on June 1.
That will not have deflected Bairstow from identifying two obvious routes into the side. The first would see Ben Stokes employed as an opening batter to the detriment of Zak Crawley (although if Stokes' bowling is restricted then an allrounder like Sam Curran would also come into consideration), and the second would be to supplant Ben Foakes in the wicketkeeping spot.
Bairstow, who has taken the gloves in 49 of his 89 Tests, the last of them against India at the Oval in September 2021, has already told Yorkshire that he wants to keep. Yorkshire's lack of a Championship fixture on May 18 does not work in his favour (inviting the theory that he might even attempt a game on loan), and regaining fitness in time for a visit to Durham at Chester-le-Street a week earlier would be a huge achievement.
Darren Gough, Yorkshire's director of cricket, said: "I think Jonny realises there is competition for places. He had his best year ever for England but you know what it's like, someone comes into the side and it's hard to get back. He probably wants to give himself as many opportunities as he can. He's a top player, he's in a good place mentally with his game. he's worked out where he wants to be and where he wants to go.
"I think Jonny has said he'd like to keep. He obviously sees a place in the England side - he's seen everyone do well and he wants to keep. He's not fit yet; he's working hard and going well. It's a case of him getting fit, which is not easy coming back from that injury. It was horrific. he's got to come back from that injury and show he's 100% fit, you can't play someone who's not. The ECB wouldn't clear him if he's not. Whether he plays for in one game, two games or none of the games before England we'll see where that goes."
Gibson did not understate the task Bairstow faces to be in the mix ahead of the Ashes series. "He's had a horrific injury but he's tracking well. he's running up and down, he can run in straight lines but he's not doing much lateral stuff yet. I've had a conversation with him and the medical team, who've done a great job, they think by the end of May he should be in position to play cricket. Everything is moving in the right direction."
Some players might have preferred a more conservative approach, breaking themselves in gradually, imagining that flinging themselves around in thew dirt for a day or so might be best avoided, but Bairstow is not that sort of player.
It is early days and England, unsurprisingly, have yet to indicate to Yorkshire their preferences.
The Yorkshire player who must await his fate is Jonny Tattersall, who has been temporarily elevated to the captaincy at the start of the season because Shan Masood, who was appointed with some fanfare last year, is missing with Pakistan - the extent of his absence still to be determined.
Tattersall could find himself losing the captaincy and then the gloves within the space of a few weeks. For a player who began as a batter, was released by the county, only to be invited back as a wicketkeeper, then dropped, and finally identified as leadership material, it is just another twist in his career.
Tattersall's honesty became him. "Obviously I'd rather keep the gloves," he said. "You want to play every game, don't you? But the club's goals are bigger than my personal goals, so if that means I have to step aside to let Jonny take the gloves, that's fine. If we're winning games of cricket, to me it doesn't matter.
"I've been used to that before. I wasn't a keeper until the 2018 season. I took up keeping to try to get into the first team. That worked for me. I understand it's professional sport and Jonny is an international player; he is that for a reason. If he needs certain things to prepare for England, so be it."

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps