RECALLED batsman Jonny Bairstow has been warned to expect a marked surge in the quality of opposition after replacing the axed Gary Ballance in England’s squad for next week’s third Investec Ashes Test against Australia.
Selectors responded to a harrowing 405-run demise to Australia at Lord’s on Sunday, which levelled the series at 1-1, by identifying in-form Bairstow as the man to stifle England’s middle-order batting woes in an otherwise unchanged 13-man squad.
The 25-year-old, who made the last of his 14 Test appearances at Sydney in the dying embers of the whitewash Ashes tour of 2013-14, has been prolific for Yorkshire this season, averaging more than 100.
But while racking up runs in county cricket has provided Bairstow with an opportunity to relaunch his international career, former England skipper Alec Stewart expects the biggest test to stem from a commodity not prevalent in the domestic game.
“Bairstow has been in sensational form,” said Stewart. “He’s earned the right to be selected, then you just hope he can deal with the excess pace of Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson. We don’t see 90mph bowlers in county cricket.”
The inclusion of Bairstow at the expense of Yorkshire team-mate Ballance will also see a re-jig of the batting line-up. Four-time Ashes winner Ian Bell, another player whose form is under the microscope after notching just 128 runs in his last 12 innings, will move to No3, with vice-captain Joe Root promoted to No4, followed by Bairstow.
“Bell has a tremendous track record. He’s a top-class player suffering a dip in form, but he’s always made it known he likes batting at No3,” added Stewart. “Despite a run of low scores recently, I just think he’s got the technique and mental strength to go in at No3.
“If you leave Bell out, you’re basically saying that’s the end of his career, and in my opinion you don’t want to be saying that. He’s too good a player just to be left out and then discarded.”
Despite boasting a healthy Test average of 47.76, Ballance has failed to convince in the No3 slot for England against New Zealand and Australia this summer, and has scored just one half-century in his last 10 innings.
“Gary was naturally disappointed to miss out on this occasion, however, we feel that he will benefit from some time in county cricket to rediscover his form,” said selector James Whitaker. “He has already had plenty of success at international level and, as selectors, we are confident Gary will play a significant role for England in the future.”