Bairstow, who is a wicketkeeper-batsman but will not be required to have the gloves in the Test side, had gathered momentum in recent weeks after scoring two hundreds for Yorkshire this season and he struck a confident half-century for England Lions against the West Indians in Northampton. Over a 50-match first-class career he averages 46.37 with a highest score of 205.
He has had a taste of international cricket with six ODIs and six Twenty20 internationals, playing a match-winning innings in each format when he hit an unbeaten 41 against India on his ODI debut and then struck 60 during the Twenty20 series against Pakistan in the UAE.
Geoff Miller, the national selector, said: “Jonny Bairstow has put in a number of impressive performances both for England Lions and Yorkshire and has been working hard on the England Performance Programme over the last couple of years. He is an exciting young player who now has an opportunity to experience the Test environment.”
Bopara will be left to rue the second untimely injury that has stalled his prospects of adding to 12 Test caps. He was in line for a recall against Sri Lanka earlier this year after Eoin Morgan was dropped but picked up a side strain which prevented him from bowling and Samit Patel was preferred with England keen for a fifth-bowling option in hot conditions.
This time it appears that bowling has caused the injury after he went off following one over against Kent and although he batted with a runner, making 19 from No. 8, it soon became clear that his chances of making the Test squad were receding.
“He’s got this grade one tear. He’s got to rectify that before we can revisit it,” Miller said. “He was very much part of the discussion, but as soon as the injury occurred we had to go somewhere else. He’s got to be fully fit to do himself justice and do a job for the side. On this occasion, this is not the case. He’s got to go away and put himself back in the frame.”
Bairstow replaces Samit Patel from the side that levelled the series against Sri Lanka in Colombo in April, which was England’s only Test victory of a disappointing winter to leave them clinging to the No. 1 ranking by a fraction of a point ahead of South Africa, who they play later this season. The batting failed in four out of the five Tests but the top five have been given a vote of confidence ahead of the new campaign.
“This is an important period for us following a challenging winter where we learnt some valuable lessons and we are preparing for a highly competitive series against a West Indies side full of quality players,” Miller said. “We have selected a very strong 13-man squad which allows us to consider a number of options before making a decision about Thursday’s side.”
Elsewhere, the squad is as expected with Graham Onions earning a place among five quick-bowling options. Onions has not played Test cricket since January 2010 after which he suffered a career-threatening back injury but has been back around the national set-up over the last year following his recovery. He is vying for the third fast-bowling slot along with Tim Bresnan and Steven Finn.
Squad: Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior (wk), Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Graham Onions
Bairstow an eye to the future
Ravi Bopara must be wondering what he has done wrong after injury scuppered his chances of a Test place for the second time in two months. It is now getting to the stage where it feels as though he may never add to his 12 Test caps and that would be harsh given how long he has been on the fringes. The two Tests against India last year did not constitute a proper opportunity and although there is a suggestion he may not quite be good enough he is worthy of one more chance to establish a place.
For now, though, that will have to be put to one side and instead Jonny Bairstow has been given centre stage. In choosing Bairstow, instead of a more experienced option such as Michael Carberry, the selectors have looked ahead to the future of England’s middle order. His talent is raw around the edges but the power and timing of his batting has stood out, coupled with a confidence to play his shots.
England’s established top order needs to be put under pressure by the group of young batsmen emerging below them. The batting had a torrid winter, until the final Test in Colombo, and while that is being put down as a ‘blip’, competition for places – as is the case in the fast-bowling department – is the best incentive to perform.