Joe Root believes Jonny Bairstow can become one of the leading Test batsmen in the world as he flies out to South Africa before a swift return to England’s squad.
Bairstow, 30, was left out of the Tests in New Zealand following a low-key Ashes series by way of runs, and told he should push his case for a recall as a specialist batsman with Jos Buttler handed the wicketkeeping gloves.
The expectation is that Bairstow will be named among a slightly expanded England party for the four-Test series in South Africa that begins on Boxing Day and, with this in mind, he will tag along with an advanced party of fast bowlers for a two-week training camp from 1 December.
Jimmy Anderson and Mark Wood are also on this early trip to the training facilities in Potchefstroom and pushing for recalls after injury, while Olly Stone, Craig Overton and Ollie Robinson, the uncapped Sussex seamer who took 63 wickets in Division Two last summer, are the others attending.
For Bairstow, who boasts six Test centuries from 69 caps but has averaged 20.25 in 2019, it is a chance to face a group of hungry seamers and regroove a technique that some observers felt had been affected by his role as a destructive opening batsman in the ODI team. Root, the Test captain, is expecting a response.
Root said: “[The training camp] gives him an opportunity to get some workload in and keep looking to progress his game. He wants to prove to everyone that he wants to put the work in and develop and get better. This is an opportunity for him to do just that.
“For Jonny you look at his talent, what he’s achieved and what he potentially could achieve in Test cricket and you think he’s got the capability to go on and make really big scores and be one of the best players in the world as a batter alone.”
Root went on to urge Bairstow to take his opportunity when it arises – “he’s someone that’s very good at doing that when that happens” – and insisted “you can’t rule out anything out” as regards this still being behind the stumps.
The England captain was speaking after Buttler injured his back in the gym before Friday’s second Test in Hamilton, placing Ollie Pope on standby to deputise behind the stumps. Were such a scenario to unfold in South Africa, Bairstow would clearly be the next in line.
Ed Smith’s selection panel convenes shortly after England return from New Zealand on 5 December, and the prospect of Anderson and Wood both being fit again after respective calf and side injuries creates a bottle-neck among the seam-bowling berths.
Saqib Mahmood and Chris Woakes could be viewed as vulnerable here, although the latter’s stronger all-round game gives him an edge should England decide it is a case of two in, one out. The coaching staff on tour are hugely impressed by Mahmood and he is considered a bright long-term prospect. The decision is not straightforward.
In the spin bowling department, Matt Parkinson has been backup to Jack Leach in New Zealand but Root, who left Parkinson limping after smashing a ball into his knee during a net session this week, is still minded to recall Moeen Ali should the all-rounder feel ready for a Test return following a self-imposed break.