Jonny Bairstow blow could make him the master of England's middle order

Will Macpherson
Hand in cap: Jonny Bairstow covers up his broken middle finger as leaves the field yesterday but it could mean he will be able to concentrate on his destructive batting: Getty Images

Having left the field in agony on Monday after breaking his middle finger, Jonny Bairstow was set to bat on Tuesday as England set about saving the Third Test at Trent Bridge.

The injury will need assessing over the coming days but if it is as bad as feared, this innings — dosed up and down the order — will be his final act of a series that continues with the Fourth Test a week on Thursday.

This is a blow for England, as Bairstow is not only their second most dangerous batsman — and the one the Indians are said to prize most in English collapses — but the wicketkeeper too. Jos Buttler reprised the role for two sessions on Monday and would likely continue at the Ageas Bowl and the Oval, with a specialist batsman coming in higher up.

Perhaps England could take this opportunity to make such a change permanent for the good of the side.

The balance is currently odd, with Buttler cast as the specialist batting vice-captain coming in at seven.

Ollie Pope, 20, is only playing his second Test and bats at four, after making his name lower down the order in first-class cricket. Pope is followed by Bairstow, who is not making the most of his lavish batting talents — since his golden 2016, he averages 34.75.

The Yorkshireman could return at No4, next to Joe Root, England’s most accomplished batsman, in the order, and set about becoming the best middle-order batsman in the world. He has shown in ODIs quite how good he can be.

Bairstow would bristle at the idea of losing wicketkeeping duties. He has been prickly about it when asked.

Through hard work, he has improved himself beyond measure behind the stumps. He is probably marginally better than Buttler, but also a better outfielder. Bairstow sees himself as an all-rounder, loves being in the game and all his career goals are as a keeper-batsman: he wants to be the first Englishman to play 100 Tests as keeper, and to score more than Les Ames’ eight centuries as keeper. He will almost certainly achieve this, but how many centuries could he score if he was not keeping wicket?

Statistics work both ways on Bairstow with the gloves. He averages 43 with them, and 29 without, although all his keeping has been done since his big improvement while away for 20 months between Ashes series up to 2015.

Dig deeper, and the gloves are not as good for him: since taking over full-time from Buttler in late 2015, before keeping wicket in a match he averages 61.6, including all five of his centuries.

Jos Buttler took up wicket-keeping duties on Monday (AFP/Getty Images)

Once he has kept – in innings two, three or four – his average does not get out of the thirties.

Bairstow has done little to deserve losing the gloves, and would not like the idea. But that is not the point. The sense, reinforced by Ben Stokes’ immediate return this week, is that this England team is a little cosy, and that senior players are indulged.

Tough calls can help: Bairstow without the gloves should provide England with a second world-class batsman which, when they are finding runs so hard to come by, would be a huge boon. If managed right, Bairstow should see this as a huge compliment, not a slight.

There are other positives. Root could return to second slip in place of Buttler, who is being asked to learn that role on the job. Moving like a keeper, he missed badly again yesterday, meaning in this Test alone, England have dropped catches at first, second, third and fourth slip, and gully too. James Anderson has had five catches dropped off his bowling this series, and in all 12 have gone down in the cordon. four of them being Virat Kohli’s prized wicket.

Pope would be able to bed in at a more accommodating role at No5, while it might give Buttler greater purpose too. Now, he is too much of a luxury and looks dispensable when he fails with the bat — and he cannot succeed every time.

Bairstow’s injury is desperately unfortunate, and damages England’s chances of winning the series. But, long term, it might just provide an opportunity.