Jonny Bairstow and Test cricket is a fascinating combination. Whenever Jonny Bairstow and red-ball cricket coalescence, the questions over his inclusion are raised and rightly so. His returns, in this format, has been below-par for a while now.
While Bairstow has touched greater heights in white-ball cricket, he has had a huge downfall in Test cricket. His white-ball cricket exploits have resulted in a hit to his red-ball career. To become a successful batsman in the shorter formats, he compromised his technique in the Tests.
Abysmal Test Form
Before the first innings of the recently concluded first Test between England and India, Jonny Bairstow had four ducks in his last five Test innings against India. If we go further, the tally rises to six ducks in the 10 last innings against them. Initially, he wasn’t part of the first two matches, but another injury to Ollie Pope opened the door for Bairstow yet again.
Among all the batsmen (1-8 position) to have batted in at least 20 innings before the first Test, Jonny Bairstow has had the worst average (20.74) and balls-per-dismissal ratio (41.51) since 2019. On average, the Yorkshire-born played 38.65 balls-per-innings, which is also the lowest among the lot. Bairstow has made only two half-centuries, with the highest being 52 only in the aforementioned duration.
Bairstow has scored 29 or fewer runs on 21 different occasions, meaning he has failed 77.77% times in the past two years. He also bagged his first pair in 12 years against Ireland in 2019. As a result, he has been in and out of the Test team regularly in the last two years or so.
Improved Performance In The First Test:
Despite substandard performance with the willow, Jonny Bairstow was roped in the first Test - courtesy of thigh injury to the promising Ollie Pope. There wasn't much expected from him, especially given the conditions he came to bat in. Bairstow, though, surprised everyone with his improved technique and better temperament.
In the first innings, Jonny Bairstow was extremely cautious throughout. He tried scoring runs only if the ball was too full or on his pads in the whole innings. Hence, only 20% of runs came off from the short of good length in the channel as he let those balls pass him.
In contrast, he was aggressive and positive right from the ball one in the second innings. The 31-years old didn't leave any opportunity of scoring runs as he pounced on quickly to anything full or short in length. While one can argue that Indian bowlers bowled too many loose deliveries, still Bairstow did a fair job to make the most of them.
Technical Tweaks That Helped Him
Having good technique is the utmost important thing to succeed in Test cricket. There were several flaws in Bairstow's technique that held him back from flourishing. However, he made slight adjustments, and, hence, he looked much better in the game.
Covering The Stumps
Knowing where your off stump is the most important thing while batting in Test cricket. And, this can be comprehended easily if you cover the stumps before the ball being delivered. The Yorkshireman used to err here as well.
On comparing his batting stance with Ashes 2019, the difference is lucid. In his batting stance of 2019, his off and middle stump is completely open, and some part of the leg pole can also be seen. As a result, he didn't know which ball is to be played and which can be left off.
Jonny Bairstow leave percentage v balls in the channel outside off:
Career - 28%
Today - 48%#ENGvIND
— The CricViz Analyst (@cricvizanalyst) August 4, 2021
However, Bairstow was seen covering all three stumps entirely before the ball is being delivered. Consequently, he didn't poke unnecessarily and let the balls in the channel pass him swiftly. The tweet above also ratifies the same.
Stable Head Position
A steady head position helps in judging the line of the ball easily and not playing across it. Earlier, Bairstow's head was falling over too much, resulting in constant failure against incoming balls. But, his head was much still in the first Test.
In the Ashes 2019, he was troubled by the inswingers constantly, and the biggest reason was his falling head position. Bairstow majorly played in front of his body, and, hence, even he managed to cover the angle, he failed to play the line of the ball. He tried playing cross-batted shots most of the time then.
But, in the first Test, he played the ball under his eyes, and his head didn't fall over completely. As a result, Bairstow managed to play in the line of the ball, and the angle was also covered off. It can't be labelled as perfect, as it fell over again on the wicket ball in the first innings, but the improvement is visible.
Gap Between Bat and Pad
While playing an incoming delivery, the most important thing is to have a bat close to your body. This minimises the risk of being caught in front of stumps and getting bowled. Again, Jonny Bairstow did the completely contrary thing.
Now, look at that huge gap between bat and pad on the left side of the image. Bairstow played with the hard hands and away from his body. This resulted in another dismissal with a pacy inswinger.
In contrast, Bairstow had a very minute gap between bat and pad in the first Test, as shown in the image. He played with soft hands and as late as possible, making the ball come to him instead of rushing to the ball. As a result, he looked better equipped against the inswingers and nip-backers.
Jonny Bairstow's false shot percentage (11%) is the lowest for any England batsman today. #ENGvIND
— The CricViz Analyst (@cricvizanalyst) August 4, 2021
That old technique, Bairstow earlier played with, works pretty fine in the limited-overs since the ball doesn't move much. Those flashy cover drives, away from the body, are suitable in shorter formats only. In red-ball cricket, playing with an authentic technique is the basic requirement to succeed.
Jonny Bairstow seemed a much-improved version of himself in the opening rubber. Demanding further improvement won't be a big ask, given the talent he possesses. Bairstow will surely look to seal his spot in the XI by showing his abilities with the willow in the coming matches.