Tuesday, 9 May 2017

A good problem to have?

Tuesday, 9 May 2017
As England's international summer got underway with a series of two ODIs against Ireland, one of the most eye-catching performances came from Jonny Bairstow, whose innings of 72* from 44 balls helped to set up a victory of Lord's. It was an innings that could in essence be seen as a statement of intent, a potent reminder to the England selectors of his ability against the white ball from a man whose recent chances in the side have come more often down to injuries or withdrawals from others.

In a career spanning almost six years, Bairstow has played just the 25 ODI matches. After his dramatic entrance into the team in 2011 - a match-winning innings of 41* at the end of the English summer - like many young batsmen he struggled on a first trip to India. After the year ended, he had to get used to carrying the drinks - still making squads, but just adding one cap to his first six until after the 2015 World Cup. And with carrying the drinks comes the problem, a sense of limbo in a way - being part of the international set up but not in the team, not playing cricket, not getting the match practice needed to build form.

Over the past year, we've seen Bairstow finally reach the heights he is capable of at international level, in the test arena being one of England's best and most reliable batsmen. That level of form has stretched into the start of the summer too, his 72* against Ireland following 174 opening the batting for Yorkshire just days before. It's the sort of form that makes someone too good to leave out the side. Perhaps he hasn't made the most of all his chances in the ODI side - but it's a format where batsmen are always needing to take risks, and an average of 37.25 points the right way. And he's shown he can deliver the kind of performances that will win matches for his team.

The thing is though, that batting wise England have a lot of talent to fit into a simple eleven. It's hardly a bad problem to have, and a suggestion that would have been laughed at just a few years ago. The big names of Stokes and Buttler will come straight back into the side, with Woakes and Moeen Ali also set to slot in to the lower order. Bairstow and Billings have to fight to even get a look in, whilst Ben Duckett can't make it into England's tournament squad. Others on the county scene, like Lancashire's Liam Livingstone, are also rising fast. Somebody always has to miss out.

So what team could he fit into? The most obvious answer I can think of would be:

But still this team has its own issues. With all three of Bairstow, Buttler, and Stokes playing, the team would essentially have three number fives. Whichever order they went in, someone would likely be wasted - perhaps even more so with Buttler floating up the order when the situation allows. The bowling would also leave little room for error even with Root being able to chip in with the odd over, with Willey rarely one to complete his ten overs. With the strength in depth England have in their batting, it's hard to find room for another specialist there beyond the first four and Buttler.

And so, the case will be that Bairstow carries the drinks again. It feels a shame that one of England's best batsmen can be left out of the team, but at the same time a sign of their strength. They will know that if injury strikes they have a ready-made replacement who can slot straight in. And Bairstow will again be left to fight hard and be ready to offer selectors another reminder of this sort when the time comes.

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