We need to get it on record that we don’t have anything against gingers per se, even though we may have previously joked about exterminating them all for the good of the human race. For a start, in these post-mining boom times, gingers buying sun cream are basically propping up the Australian economy. And we’re big fans of Ben Stokes, particularly in the way that he batted with a knackered shoulder in an unsurprisingly forlorn attempt to add 150 for England’s last two wickets in Sharjah. So just to confirm: definitely not ginger haters.
Having said that, quite how Jonny Bairstow keeps getting a gig in the Test side is beyond us. More than anyone in recent memory – given that we’ve already used gin to forget Adam Lyth – Bairstow screams ‘not good enough for Test cricket’ with every single ‘not good enough for Test cricket’ performance. Every innings is a throwback to a list of Unlikely Lads from the good old days, when the likes of Graeme Hick, Mark Ramprakash, Rob Key and John Crawley spent years not quite making the grade, moving in and out of a rubbish side, repeatedly plundering runs at county level and failing dismally in international cricket before eventually being put out to pasture.
But how does Bairstow compare to those greats from the past, along with some of his more relevant peers? Well, pretty badly as it turns out. With ginger Jonny now at the 20 match mark, we can take the equivalent stage of the career of our other failures – if they even made it that far – and compare the results in a nice table:
Pretty damning stuff. Of our ragtag bunch of 13 failures and peers (plus Owais Shah, who we included just to make a point), Bairstow sits eleventh in terms of batting average and ninth in terms of highest score. The likes of Moeen Ali and Stokes also have the advantage of being all-rounders, regularly contributing with the ball. All Bairstow has is a couple of shoddy attempts at keeping wicket, complete with missed stumpings, dropped catches and loads of sunburn.
And this is where, not for the first time, the question of what Bairstow is actually supposed to be doing rears its ugly (ginger) head. Is he supposed to be a top order batsmen? Or a wicketkeeper who also chips in with runs from down the order? If it’s the former, then he has clearly failed the audition. 20 Tests is a good enough sample size to make a conclusion about a batsman and the conclusion here is pretty easy to make: he’s not very good. If Bairstow is instead in the side as a proper keeper then things are a little more complicated.
Batting at number seven is a specific challenge these days, often requiring quick scoring to build on the platform of the top six, along with some shepherding of the tail. In other words, it’s a role tailor-made for Moeen Ali in the current England side. Which gets us to the point that we’re trying to make: if England don’t actually expect their wicketkeeper to make that many runs, then they may as well pick the best man with the gloves. In our book (which we’re not going to release until we’re in a position of strength), that’s either James Foster or Chris Read. Or Alex Barrow, if we’re really, really drunk.
Whichever keeper it is, he can bat at eight, with Moeen at seven. This allows England to keep their five man bowling attack, while actually having a proper keeper who will probably chip in with a few runs here and there while not missing crucial stumpings on regular occasions. Of course there is literally zero chance of this happening, and instead England will persevere with Bairstow, with predictably disappointing results for everyone who isn’t Banana Boat.