Saturday, February 27, 2021

England in India 2020-21 – Ed Smith defends ‘pragmatic’ selection as Jonny Bairstow faces return to Test sidelines

England in India 2020-21 - Ed Smith defends 'pragmatic' selection as Jonny Bairstow faces return to Test sidelines

Ed Smith, England’s national selector, has defended the timing of Jonny Bairstow‘s rotation out of England’s Test squad for the first leg of the forthcoming tour of India, despite it coming only days after he marked his first Test appearance in over a year with a match-winning role in last week’s first Test against Sri Lanka.

Recalled to the team at No. 3 in the absence of a number of first-choice picks, including Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope, Bairstow responded with 47 in the first innings and a crucial 35 not out in the second, as he overcame a scoreline of 14 for 3 on the penultimate evening of the match to ease his side to a seven-wicket victory on the fifth morning.

However, with the T20 World Cup in India looming towards the end of the year, Bairstow’s importance to England’s white-ball squad has been cited as the reason to give him a break from Test action so soon after his recall.

England are set to play five T20Is and three ODIs against India in March, where they will hope to hone their strategies on surfaces similar to those they will face at the World Cup in October and November, and Smith said Bairstow’s omission was consistent with the ECB’s policy of giving their multi-format specialists a break from the team’s bio-secure environment at different stages of their winter campaign.

“I spoke at length to Jonny yesterday, as well as at Loughborough before the Sri Lankan tour,” Smith said. “[I said you have] a fantastic opportunity coming up in Sri Lanka, where we expect you to get game time. But at some point, as is the case with the other multi-format players, you’re going to need your rest too, and he completely understands that and endorses it.”

Nevertheless, Bairstow’s impending absence in India means that – no matter how he fares in Friday’s second Test in Galle – he will have featured in just three of England’s last 15 Tests, dating back to the end of the Ashes in August 2019, by the time he returns to the squad ahead of the third Test in Ahmedabad at the end of February.

What’s more, Jos Buttler’s impending absence for the final three Tests of the India tour means that Bairstow could yet be competing with Ben Foakes for the wicketkeeper’s role when he returns to the squad, having been picked as a specialist No. 3 in Sri Lanka.

“It was great to see Jonny looking very focused and clear in Test cricket,” Smith said. “He was given lots of visibility ahead of time that he would be likely to bat three, playing as a batsman. But over the long term, as I’ve said many times, I think Jonny is a highly talented player, and we know he brings a lot to the party and can play a number of different roles. That remains the case.”

Bairstow will be departing the squad alongside Sam Curran and Mark Wood – two other players who can expect to feature heavily in England’s World Cup build-up – with Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer returning in their stead, alongside Rory Burns, who has missed the Sri Lanka tour following the birth of his first child.

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