England's Jonny Bairstow: I don't think I'm nearly as good as I can be - I'm ready to jump forward again

Will Macpherson
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Jonny Bairstow does not miss a game for England these days and has had a non-stop summer, but knows the greatest challenge of 2018 is yet to come. “Five Tests in six weeks? It’s going to be carnage,” he says.

Bairstow is referring to the Tests against India, the summer’s showpiece, starting a week on Wednesday at Edgbaston and barely pausing for breath until mid-September.

“It’s going to be tough,” he says. “They are No1 in the world, but we are in our home conditions. It’s hugely exciting, with five Tests not three Tests, which I look forward to much more. The series can swing wildly, people dip in and out of form, everyone has to contribute.”

Bairstow lifts himself for Test cricket; the chance to settle in a town for more than a night or two, to do the role he has long craved, and to be a senior player — he has played more than 50 Tests and ODIs, and made his international debut nearly seven years ago — in a transitional team.

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“Don’t be putting me in the senior category just yet!” he laughs. “The Test team is early on the curve, which is the exciting thing for everyone involved. I enjoy being experienced, and helping Rooty (captain Joe Root), and be one of the guys who is turned to for experience.”

Bairstow will prepare with the Roses match on Sunday, alongside Joe Root and up against Jimmy Anderson and Jos Buttler. Remarkably, he has never played first-class cricket against Anderson and he is expecting a “mouthful”. He chose to sit out tonight’s Roses T20 to rest both mind and body, particularly a slightly troublesome knee.

Bairstow is speaking at the new SixPad store at Westfield, where he has been trying new recovery methods, which he believes will be vital in such an intense summer.

Barring a wild change of England’s plans before the squad announcement on Thursday, Bairstow will be back behind the stumps, having spent the last six weeks roving the deep in the white-ball team. He will bat No5, too.

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“It’s been good fun out on the fence, copping abuse every now and again, but it’ll be even more fun to be influencing the game at all times,” he says. “I’ve not kept for a couple of months but that’s not a problem. It’s a role I’ve done a lot for Yorkshire and I like it. I don’t think it’s too much, it’s my job. I just go out and score as many runs as I can wherever I bat, but the chance to be out there a bit longer and earlier is great.”

The chance to bat long and early in the ODI team was gleefully accepted 13 months ago, when he was thrust in as opener after a years of feeding off scraps. In 25 games, he averages 60, with a strike-rate of 114. His partnership with Jason Roy is ludicrous and already England’s best ever in the format: an average of 65 in 19 innings, with five century stands, three of which came this summer. It has gone better than he or England could have expected, and taken the team to a new level.

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“There has been a change to the way I go about it,” he admits. “It was just a realisation that you don’t have to go out and whack it! Just play strong cricket shots, because the field is up, so try to put it away through the gaps, and put it away if it’s a remotely bad ball. As soon as you start worrying about strike-rate, and striking at 120 in the first 10, it doesn’t happen. Jason’s the same. We’re loving it.”

Bairstow’s book, A Clear Blue Sky, came out nine months ago and has swept up awards. It is more self-help memoir than sportsman’s autobiography and the process of baring the soul over the suicide of his father, David, that equally combative red-headed wicketkeeper-batsman from Yorkshire, has proved cathartic at the time, and since.

It is noticeable that it is all “we” when talking about the book, because it was a family process with mother Janet and younger sister Becky, a pair he is proud and protective of in equal measures.

“The reception we have received has been amazing,” he said. “It was a difficult thing to do and a different, new experience. The messages you get from people are special and the chance to give an understanding to people, something tangible to let them know that it’s not just them that’s been through something like this. Hopefully, it can inspire people to crack on after an event like that, still push yourself to the limits and evolve.”

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Since the book came out, Bairstow has been a busy boy. There was the contrived headbutt in a Perth bar, his first Ashes hundred in that same city and his ascent to being the best ODI opener in the world.

But Bairstow is not done yet and believes it is time for his Test game to make the sort of leap forward it did in 2016 — when he kept in 17 Tests and averaged 59 — and his white-ball game has lately. He is 29 in September and approaching the peak of his powers.

“I can’t wait to try,” he says of kicking on. “I’m pleased with where my game is but don’t think I’m nearly as good as I can be. I’ve still got lots of cricket in me. That’s what excites me and drives me, staying on an upward curve. At no point have I plateaued, I’ve kept working hard and developing and I need to keep that up. I’m ready to jump forward again.”

Jonny Bairstow was speaking at SIXPAD Training Gear’s latest product launch at their new Westfield London store to take on Cristiano Ronaldo’s ultimate fitness challenge. www.sixpad.uk