England to stand by misfiring Jonny Bairstow as Brendon McCullum talks up 'loyalty'

Brendon McCullum and Jonny Bairstow
Brendon McCullum will put his arm round Jonny Bairstow as he backs his No5 to come out of his slump by playing more aggressively - Mike Egerton/PA Wire

England are preparing to stand by Jonny Bairstow for Friday’s fourth Test and encourage him to embrace his natural “power game” to end a string of low scores in India.

Bairstow followed a quiet start to the tour by scoring four runs from just seven balls, including a record eighth duck against India, in the thumping third Test defeat in Rajkot, leaving him with an average of just 17 for the series. He has been part of a malfunctioning middle order alongside Joe Root (who is averaging 12.8).

Brendon McCullum, the England coach, said they could not absolutely guarantee Bairstow a spot in the side until they had seen the pitch in Ranchi, where they travel on Tuesday and “think it might spin”. But McCullum is confident he will “come good”. Bairstow has blown hot and cold across his 98-Test career, but sparked England’s aggressive resurgence under McCullum and Ben Stokes with a brutal century against New Zealand at Trent Bridge. McCullum pointed to “mild” dismissals in India, with the only time he has been out attacking was a sweep off Ravindra Jadeja on Sunday.

“I’d anticipate Jonny would be playing, yes,” said McCullum. “He’s not scored the volume of runs he would have wanted and a couple of times he’s got out kind of mildly for someone who’s got the power game Jonny’s got. I don’t have concerns over him. I’m not blind but he’s done so well for us and he’s had such an impactful career.

“We know that a top quality Jonny Bairstow is as good as anyone in any conditions so from our point of view we’ve got to keep on giving him confidence and block out a lot of the external noise as well and keep him really present and focused on what he’s trying to achieve and I’m sure Jonny will come good.”

With Harry Brook highly unlikely to rejoin the tour as he tends to a family matter, the only alternative to Bairstow is Dan Lawrence, who is yet to play under McCullum but is highly-regarded in the set-up and offers a spin-bowling option. Loyalty of selection, though, is the cornerstone of the Bazball project and England do not appear ready to turn their back on Bairstow yet, with McCullum – who is known for his man management – ready to put an arm round the Yorkshireman, who responds better to the carrot than the stick in lean runs of form.

“It [loyalty] is huge,” McCullum said. “Everyone is so quick to chop and change and if that’s the case there’s little conviction in what you’re doing if you’re prepared to keep moving the goalposts then how do you get buy-in from your players into a squad.

“It will just be spending a bit more time with Jonny to be honest. We’re a long way from home and India can be a tough place to tour, well anywhere can be, so to spend time with Jonny. He’s such a talent and has done some incredible things for us. Yeah he’s a little bit different, we all know that, but that’s in a good way. If we were all the same it would be pretty bloody boring. So to spend a bit of time with Jonny and remind him that he’s such a wonderful player and not to do it because you’re trying to get a performance but you want to spend time with him because he’s a good bloke and you want to make sure he’s enjoying himself.”

Jonny Bairstow passes his century
Bairstow's magnificent innings at Trent Bridge in 2022 was the first manifestation of the so-called 'Bazball' ethos - Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Bairstow and the rest of England’s batting line-up will be boosted by the news that Jasprit Bumrah, India’s star quick, is reported to be resting for the Ranchi Test. The two teams travel to Ranchi via charter flight on Tuesday but, according to Cricbuzz, Bumrah headed home to Ahmedabad on Monday.

England will make changes to their attack, too, with James Anderson and Mark Wood unlikely to play back-to-back Tests after bowling 38 overs each and fielding on every day of the Rajkot Test. Ollie Robinson is therefore in line for a recall.

Stokes has opened the door to bowling for the first time since his knee surgery in November, but McCullum says he will have a role in holding the captain back if he is not ready.

“Of course [I have a role],” said McCullum. “If he does get that bit between his teeth then let’s see where the danger lies there and try and pull him away from it.

“It’s good that he’s actually getting into a state where he thinks he might bowl. But Ben is really clever as well. He won’t bowl unless he thinks he’s legitimately able to bowl. The problem would be if he starts getting into a spell and then he can’t get out of the spell. So we’ll see what unfolds.”

McCullum acknowledged that England were “frustrated” to have been “outplayed”, but said they would not be ditching the attacking methods that have brought success under his coaching.

There was a bit of frustration which I kind of get because the guys are obviously disappointed at how it played out but there’s also still a very strong belief in the set-up that we can come back and win this 3-2,” he said.

“We’re obviously not totally screwed down on the method yet. We’ve seen some incredible development of players since we have come in.

“We’ve still got some progress to make and some things to improve on, but I think we’re a better team now than we were 18 months ago.”