Jonny Bairstow in Tests - it's time to say goodbye

The Jonny Bairstow story in Test cricket, probably a more fabled love affair than Twilight. In 2016, he seemed on top of the world in Tests, showing us his potential that he could actually crack the pinnacle of international cricket. However, since 2018 and his rise as one of the best white ball players in the world, his Test form has dropped off the cliff, to put it politely, yet he still pops up in Test selection conversations. In this article, I explain to even the most passionate of YJB fans why we need to wave goodbye to him in Test cricket.

To begin with, lets take a look at his Test average since 2018, which doesn't read well for him. YJB averages a measly 25.16 in the last 3 years. Now, while it may seem I am just incessantly attacking YJB throughout this article, I cannot ignore his potential "hardships". Since 1st Jan 2018, he has been played as a number 3 (14 innings) and number 4 (1), while also batting at 5 (12), 6 (11) and 7 (9) with the responsibility of keeping. However, if he was this mercurial talent that his loyal fanbase claims him to be, surely he should've been able to adapt to changing scenarios by now? It's not as if he's the only batter to be shifted around by England: Joe Denly was asked to bat at 3, at 4 then move up to open, Moeen Ali has batted every position from 1-7, Dan Lawrence has batted 3, 5 and 7 and even Joe Root has been moved around in the top order. To top it off, Zak Crawley has batted at numbers 2, 3, 4 and 6 for England, showing how Bairstow has not been singled out by England management; all of these players did as they were told without any real complaints, so why is the media and fan attitude different for YJB? If you breakdown his averages at these positions during this time period, they do not scream "Test quality player". At 3, he has 372 runs at 33, and they just get worse from here. At 4, he averages 6; at 5, 287 runs at 23.91. Even at number 6, he still averages only 15 with 165 runs to his name. Finally at number 7, he has 252 runs at an average of 31.5. Looking at these numbers, how can you argue to play Bairstow over someone like Ollie Pope, who averages 36.8 at 5 and 35.69 at 6 in the Test arena? Very simply, you can't. The last time Bairstow hit a 50 was against India at Lords in 2018 when he was batting 6, an eye watering 951 days ago. Not good enough for the supposed "best WK- batsman" in England as some of his fans would have you try to believe.

Next, let's look at his closest like for like comparison in Jos Buttler. Both of these men have been the tried and trusted guys with the gloves in the Test team, with Ben Foakes very harshly not given a proper chance to stake his claim. To be blunt, Buttler outshines YJB. Buttler has 979 runs at an average of over 50 when batting at 6 since 2018, while also recording a much better catch % when keeping since Foakes' debut (Buttler has a catch percentage of 92.5%, Bairstow 80.6%). Both Buttler and Bairstow play all formats for England, so why is Jonny struggling badly compared to Jos, when some of his fans claim he is level or even superior to Jos in Tests? The stat you can potentially use to prove this is how many 100's each have at Test level. Buttler has 2 Test centuries compared to Bairstow's 6, showing how some people may believe that YJB is better. However, Buttler has played 24 fewer Tests than Jonny, yet still manages to better Bairstow's overall Test average (34.5 for Buttler, 34.1 for Bairstow), proving how Jos has managed to adapt his technique to work for both red and white ball, unlike Bairstow.

Technique is probably the most common word associated with YJB in Tests, so lets delve into this. As of the 4th March this year, Bairstow averages 8 against balls seaming in and 6 against balls hitting the stumps since 2017. That is atrocious for a guy who recently claimed he had "nothing to prove" ahead of the winter tours to Sri Lanka and India. "But what about his superior skill against spin?" I hear the Bairstow fans cry. No 50's on either of these tours, combined with a grand total of 28 runs against India with 3 ducks in 4 innings would show that he doesn't have as big as skill advantage as some would like to claim. Before his recall ahead of the 1st Test against Sri Lanka, he averaged 18.55 in his last 10 Test matches - nowhere near enough to deserve a permanent inclusion in the side ahead of someone like Crawley, who has a Test 250. Bairstow's defence is also a massive weakness in Tests after becoming ODI opener. If we look back to 2015-16, he was only dismissed every 150 defensive shots, according to CricViz. Since 2017 he has been dismissed every 39 defensive shots, over twice as frequently as the average for Test number 3's - 81. Since 2018, Bairstow has been either been bowled or LBW 22 times in Tests (14 and 8 times respectively), making up 48.89% of his dismissals in this period. Compare this to Ben Stokes and Buttler, who are stalwarts for England in all three formats, the difference is clear to see. Jos has been dismissed 19 times by the same methods (7 and 12), but these only make up 35.1% of his dismissals. With Stokes, he has been dismissed 21 times by the same methods (10 and 11), making up 36.84% of his dismissals. With Bairstow having such a glaring weakness compared to his middle order companions, any potential claim for him to play over them is almost impossible to back up. Before his promotion to ODI opener, Bairstow averaged nearly 50 in Tests. Since then, he changed his technique to open up the offside and thus has seen his Test average plummet to under 30 since then. According to CricViz, when Test players typically drive at balls on their stumps, they average 22.75 runs per dismissal; Bairstow averages 6. Again I ask the question - why is there still the clamour to pick Bairstow in Tests?

One take that I've seen fly around on Twitter is "Potentially he could replace someone like Rory Burns at home?". The desperation is telling now. Since 1 Jan 2018 in England, Bairstow has an average of 21.49. Burns has an average of 31.2, putting that claim to bed. Could he replace anyone else at home? No he couldn't. Buttler averages over 40, Stokes almost 45, Root 34, Sibley 36, Pope 24 and Crawley 69.5 (heavily inflated by the 267 against Pakistan) in the same timeframe. The only person he could potentially replace is Pope, and even then Dan Lawrence has a better claim to Pope's spot than YJB, with a Div 1 average of 35.5. Bairstow averaged 34 in the Bob Willis Trophy last year for Yorkshire in 3 innings, passing 50 only once with no 100 made. If he is struggling to make a big impact for Yorkshire on the county circuit, why should he be considered for Tests? 102 runs in 3 innings doesn't fill me with confidence that he can deal with Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon et al and it shouldn't fill you with confidence either.

Some final stats for you to mull over. Only 5 batsman apart from Bairstow have batted in the top 7 more than 25 times in Tests and have a lower average than him. In this period, he's been dismissed for a duck 9 times, which is more often than he has passed 50. No top 7 batsman has got out for 0 more often during the same period. To round off the stats, only 7 batsman have been out bowled more often than Bairstow this century. While there is no doubting YJB's white ball excellence, his failings in red ball are very clear to see. He struggles with the nip backer, he gets out more to a drive shot than he profits from using it and most importantly, he cannot fix his technique to remove himself from being a walking talking LBW candidate. He wouldn't have even made the starting XI for the first Test of the winter had Burn's partner not been expecting their first child. All of these reasons, coupled with the stats provided and the fact that we have promising players flourishing on the county circuit leave me with no doubt in my mind that he shouldn't step foot in the Test arena for England again, regardless of how much "drive" he has. He's talked the talk and hasn't walked the walk, therefore it's time to say goodbye, for good.


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