Jonny Bairstow’s replacement for the series decider at The Oval is an easy call after England finally achieved their goal of giving Harry Brook a chance but a thorn in the side for Alex Hales for the Twenty20 World Cup. The decision is awaited.
The timing of Bairstow’s injury couldn’t have been worse and proves that no matter how much data analysis and planning matter in the modern game, a freak accident can turn it upside down in a flash.
News of Bairstow’s broken leg while playing golf filtered in just hours after England confirmed Jason Roy had been dropped for the seven-match Twenty20 tour of Pakistan, which includes the Oval Test and Australia in November. It starts immediately after the upcoming World Cup.
Rob Key confidently stated that England already knew their best World Cup XI and Bairstow started alongside Jos Buttler, two of the most devastating white-ball batsmen at the top of the order. Paired up. “Bairstow is the man,” Key said earlier on Friday when discussing Roy’s ax and who would open alongside Buttler.
Now England will have to think again and it’s a choice between one of Will Jack’s youngsters, 23, or not holding his nose in the air and including Hales in the World Cup squad. There was no chance of a Hales recall under Eoin Morgan. Morgan was black or white with the players. Once they fell out of favor, they were gone. Hales had lost his confidence with his off-field behavior and was never going to get it again. There were a few public olive branches from Morgan but he had no intention of ever allowing Hales to play in one of the England teams again.
But Key took a more lenient approach, saying Hales had served his time and had spoken to him this week when he selected the World Cup and Pakistan squad.
They lost out to Jacks, who scored his second century of the tournament, in an expanded squad of 19, with England looking to use the trip to look to the next generation. Jacks has a chance to impress and outscore the Hales this season in Pakistan but more than that could account for the experience of a big tournament. Roy going back is unthinkable as he needs to prove his form and there is no cricket to do that. Stokes could open with Buttler but it depends on Liam Livingstone being fully fit. Hales has the best shop window in Saturday’s Hundred final at Lord’s for Trent Rockets.
Have the heels changed? England doesn’t really know – there’s no data on personality and maturity from analysts. When he was dropped for the World Cup in 2019, Morgan described it as a team decision led by senior players – many of whom are still part of the squad – but Morgan’s tenure was about to end. I won’t go beyond the walkout of a clear message. To bat with Buttler in England’s first Twenty20 World Cup match against Afghanistan in Perth.
The fact that the Hales feel able to call Key is a sign of the thawing of the relationship. Morgan might not have taken the call. “I talked to Alex Hales, he actually called me, and he argued why he wasn’t there and I think so, too,” Key said. “I love when these guys pick up the phone and say, ‘Come on, why wasn’t I there?’ I’ve said on multiple occasions that I think Alex Hales has done his time for his misdeeds. Now it’s up to the farm, the choice, whether we think he’s the best person to go there.
It’s another setback for one-day coach Matthew Mott. He started with the idea that he would have Morgan as captain, Ben Stokes in the white-ball formats, and Bairstow in his prime. Now they are in bed with a new captain and results so far have not been disappointing under Buttler, Stokes retired from 50-over cricket a year ago, England is defending their World Cup and Bairstow will not be able to play the first world tournament on his watch.
At least he has Mark Wood and Chris Woakes fit again, both named for the Twenty20 World Cup, while Ollie Stone is progressing and will go to Pakistan.
Brendon McCullum will be telling Bairstow that Brook is just keeping his seat warm, reassuring a player who can be a nuisance. Bairstow is England’s player of the year with six centuries in 2022 – doubling his total in Test cricket, the epitome of the ‘buzz ball’ and his performance at Old Trafford last week after a quiet start to the South Africa series. Looking for the best performance. After the early wickets fell, he avoided a difficult spell and scored a crucial 49 runs.
England has been keen to give Brooke a chance all summer with Stokes and McCullum eyeing a talented stroke play that fits their vision of an England batsman. He will play in his natural position at five o’clock. He has averaged over 100 in first-class cricket this summer and scored 140 for the Lions against South Africa last month.
At the age of 23, he is being selected at the right time to mature and build a career in the England team. Bairstow is almost certain to miss Pakistan’s Test series in December as well, with Brooke ahead of him.