Steve Harmison has questioned whether England will be able to squeeze Jonny Bairstow back into their Test side as a specialist batter when he recovers from injury.
Bairstow had his best year as a Test cricketer in 2022, making six hundreds, including three in the space of five innings in a sensational streak of form. However, a freak broken leg injury has ruled him out since the summer, with England winning the T20 World Cup and beating Pakistan 3-0 in his absence.
In that time, Harry Brook has confirmed his status as one of the most exciting players in the world game, making three hundreds in that Test series and earning comparisons to the likes of Virat Kohli.
With England in excellent form, they face a challenge to fit Bairstow back into the top six. Joe Root is one of their greatest ever batters, Ben Stokes is the captain, and Ollie Pope, Ben Duckett and Zak Crawley all made centuries in that Pakistan series. Harmison, speaking to OnlineCricketBetting, said that there were no easy solutions to the conundrum.
“I don’t think many people have answers when it comes to where Jonny Bairstow is going to fit into this Test team. Yet anyway,” he said. “I’d love to come back to it and talk about him coming into the team, a week before the Ashes, and make a big decision.”
Harmison identified two possible slots for Bairstow, but neither was in the middle order.
“If everything goes as it is, at this minute in time, and Jonny can keep wicket, there could be a role for him there, possibly, even though that could be harsh on Ben Foakes,” he said. “If he’s not able to keep wicket, I think two years ago, I’d have been throwing things at my TV if someone had suggested this: Does he go and open the batting and try to put pressure on the new ball? At this minute in time, there are the two places to look at first then after that you look at the form.”
However, if England’s current batters maintained their form, selecting Bairstow from Nos.3-6 is not possible, in Harmison’s view. “If Pope is scoring runs, if Brook is scoring runs, if Root is scoring runs, then all of a sudden, England are scoring 450 and winning games, then you look at it and ask if you can fit him in the team. All these things will come into the melting pot for selectors. I possibly think England will either go with him as a keeper or as an opener, I don’t see him fitting into the middle-order but you might get an injury and he will just slot back in, not a problem at all. Then you look at who comes out if that person gets injured.”
Harmison did reiterate that Bairstow had to play in the Ashes, but was worried about the idea of him opening the batting.
“He has to come back though, that’s the thing for me, whatever way you find a place for him, he has to come back,” he said. “Whether he goes in first, I wouldn’t be overly keen on him going in as an opener against Australia’s attack and a Dukes ball in England. That big gap he leaves between bat and pad that you can get a London bus through, sideways, that would be a big thing for me, from a technical point of view, it’s something Australia would target which doesn’t happen as much when the ball is a bit older and he bats a bit further down
“If he can keep wicket, bend down and get up, I think that’s where he fits in for me, unfortunately for Ben Foakes. He’s done nothing wrong, and I feel absolutely horrible for suggesting it after how well Foakes has done with the gloves but this is Jonny Bairstow and this is Ashes cricket and I think we have to get him back in. Put him in at number seven, and then he’s a game changer against Australia.”
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