England want Jonny Bairstow to keep wicket for Yorkshire in build-up to Ashes

Jonny Bairstow keeps wicket for England - Stu Forster/Getty Images
Jonny Bairstow keeps wicket for England - Stu Forster/Getty Images

Jonny Bairstow will miss the Indian Premier League but England want him to take the gloves for Yorkshire when he makes his return to first-class cricket, potentially paving the way for him to replace Ben Foakes as Test wicketkeeper in the Ashes this summer.

Bairstow broke his leg in a freak golfing accident in early September and is now back in training. When it became clear that he would not be fully fit for the start of Punjab Kings’ season on April 1, the franchise decided he would miss the campaign. A formal announcement is expected in the coming days.

Bairstow’s return will come in Division Two with Yorkshire. While an exact date is not yet clear, he is likely to play County Championship cricket before England take on Ireland in a four-day Test at Lord’s on June 1. Yorkshire have fixtures on May 4 and 11, before a block of matches in the Vitality Blast. Appearing in at least one of these championship fixtures – preferably both – is viewed as crucial to Bairstow building up his fitness for the first-class game.

When he does return, England are keen for him to keep wicket for Yorkshire – giving him the chance to stake his claim to replace Foakes as England's Test wicketkeeper against Australia. He seems set to bat in the middle order, not as an opener, where Zak Crawley is under pressure in the Test team.

It is possible that Bairstow could begin his return for Yorkshire as a specialist batsman, before then taking on the gloves too. Any decision on whether he takes the gloves for his county will depend on Yorkshire and the player. But Bairstow has always been keen on keeping wicket.

Bairstow is certain to return to the Test team when fit, as head coach Brendon McCullum has said, following a stunning run of form before his injury. In 10 Tests in 2022, all as a specialist batsman, Bairstow scored six centuries – including twin hundreds against India at Edgbaston – averaging 66.3 with a strike rate of 76.

But Harry Brook’s outstanding winter, scoring four centuries in five Tests, means that he will retain his berth at No5, where Bairstow batted last summer.

Since McCullum and Ben Stokes took over as head coach and captain respectively, Foakes has performed a valuable role. His wicketkeeping has been excellent, and he is averaging 38.9 with the bat, though his overall Test average is a more modest 32.2.

Despite his stellar 2022, Bairstow still averages slightly more when keeping wicket for England than picked as a specialist batsman. He last kept wicket for England in the 2021 Oval Test, filling in on a one-off basis when Jos Buttler was injured. He stopped being the incumbent keeper after the 2019 Ashes, but has kept wicket in 49 Tests.

Jonny Bairstow celebrates a century against India - Gareth Copley/Getty Images
Jonny Bairstow celebrates a century against India - Gareth Copley/Getty Images

England have still yet to decide on their first-choice wicketkeeper for the Ashes. The desire for Bairstow to keep for Yorkshire is about maximising their options for the five Tests, which begin on June 16 after the Ireland Test.

Bairstow keeping for Yorkshire adds to the growing sense that, provided he is fully fit and there are no other injury complications to the rest of the batting line-up, he is likely to take be used as Test keeper-batsman at No7 this summer. As a Test wicketkeeper-batsman batting at seven, Bairstow averages 40.5. His aggressive batting has proved a natural fit with England’s ‘Bazball’ approach and could be particularly important with the need for recognised batsmen to score quickly while batting with England’s tail.

Bairstow has had to take his time recovering from the gruesome injury, which saw him miss six Tests and England’s successful T20 World Cup campaign.

"Normally when you slip you fall on your bum, which would have been fine as there’s plenty of cushion in there,” he told Telegraph Sport in October. “Except this time I tried to regain my balance, my left ankle turned right, dislocated and my weight went through my left lower leg. I heard it snap straight away.”

There will still be 13 Englishmen at the IPL, a number of whom will be part of England’s Ashes team, too. Bairstow’s fellow batsmen Joe Root, Brook and captain Stokes are all set to play in the tournament.

Stokes will leave the UK later this week with some concern over the flare-up of his chronic left knee injury on the recent Test tour of New Zealand. He is understood to have had injections in the knee, but medical assessments have not shown anything that would rule him out. Stokes has said he will miss the knockout stages of the IPL to be back in plenty of time for the Ireland Test.

England's Will Jacks has already been ruled out of the tournament, his first IPL, with a thigh injury suffered on the tour of Bangladesh earlier this month, while Mark Wood is also planning to miss the latter stages of the tournament because his wife is due to give birth to their second child.