Jonny Bairstow appears set to make his Test return at No 3 next week and will do so believing there are “plenty more runs left in the tank” to offer England in the longest format.
Bairstow, 31, has spent a year out of the Test side after struggling to merge his compelling white-ball form with the tighter defence required against the red, and seeing his preferred spot behind the stumps given to Jos Buttler.
The Covid-afflicted home summer afforded him only two first-class outings for Yorkshire but with a strong record against spin, and Rory Burns missing the tour, the selectors persuaded Bairstow to abandon a deal in Australia’s Big Bash League with the promise of a starting berth for the tour of Sri Lanka.
Two years ago Bairstow struck a fine century in Colombo from first drop – a response to losing the gloves to Ben Foakes – and though his latest recall could be viewed as a short-term solution he retains ambitions beyond this.
Bairstow said: “I’ve played 70 Tests now. People keep saying [I’ve got] points to prove, this, that and the other. To be honest, I’ve answered a lot of questions in the past. This is now a time for me to enjoy going into a Test series and relish the opportunity.
“I genuinely think my game’s in the best place it’s been. The work I’ve put in and the runs I’ve got left in the tank over the next three, four, however many years it may be, I believe I can be a huge contributor to English cricket in the Test arena.
“I’ve batted a few times at No 3 and generally done all right there. If that is the case, then bring it on. It’s an opportunity and something I’m excited about. That’s how I’m looking at it. I do want to get back into the team.”
Bairstow’s role was seemingly confirmed by selection for the two-day intra-squad match due to begin in Hambantota on Friday morning, which acts as England’s sole warm-up before the two-match Test series begins in Galle next Thursday.
The absence of Moeen Ali, isolating with Covid-19, and Chris Woakes, similarly stuck in his room because of close contact, means Ollie Pope is a surprise inclusion.
Pope, 23, is not officially part of the squad after shoulder surgery last September, but while he is unlikely to field, the physios have given him the all-clear to bat as he continues his rehabilitation before the India tour next month.