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Bairstow’s slice of rough luck on the golf course creates opportunity for green alternatives

image-l7osrnh8Bairstow was in superb form before his injury [PC: Twitter]

Jonny Bairstow’s golfing mishap has left England with a selection challenge, not just for the impending and decisive final Test vs South Africa on Thursday, but also for the T20 marathon that begins in Pakistan, leading to the World Cup. 

Jonny has firmly put to bed any conspiracy theories on the involvement of others, but golf injuries tend to be shoulders, arms, backs, or the ever-present risk of being hit by an errant ball if you don’t hear the shout of fore! A potentially broken leg is, to say the least, unusual. 

Coming towards the end of what has been a summer mirabilis for Jonny and for England is a huge personal and team disappointment. Where Ashley Giles had to ban him from football, will Brendon McCullum have to add the usually more genteel golf to the list of high - risk activities?

More pressing for England is the question of a replacement and whilst Bairstow was a nailed-on starter for both red and white ball action, his replacement may well not come in a similar one player, multi format package. 

Who will replace Bairstow?

image-l7ot5bfsDuckett has received his maiden call-up

For this week’s final Test Vs South Africa, Ben Duckett has been added to the squad. His 145 for the Lions vs South Africa at Canterbury, batting in Bairstow’s number 5 position, will undoubtedly have caught the eye, not just for its total, but equally importantly the manner of it’s making, coming from a brisk 168 balls. 

However, Harry Brook would have a right to feel somewhat aggrieved were Duckett to slot straight in and it may be that Duckett’s elevation is also more practically to provide wicket keeping cover for Ben Foakes. The only alternative would be Pope and home ground or not, keeping and batting at number three would likely be too much to place upon his shoulders. 

Brooks can also point to a fine showing for the Lions at Canterbury scoring 140 from 170 balls (191 of them in partnership with Duckett). Neither he, nor Duckett, faced Rabada or Nortje though and both fell to Aiden Markram’s occasional off breaks.  

image-l7otmph7Brook is the firm favourites to replace Bairstow

Championship form shows Brook’s twelve innings netting an excellent 967 runs at 107.44. with three tons and six fifties. Duckett is averaging 72.29 with three tons and five fifties, albeit in Division Two. Some may point to the divisional difference as crucial, but that would be blind to the quality of the lower division’s attacks this season. 

In the McCullum era, strike rates and context will be equally if not more important than averages and there is barely a cigarette paper to slide between them there with Duckett’s 76.09 and Brook’s 75.61. Duckett powered a highest score of 241 from 273 balls in July at Derby where Notts could not close out a win. Harry Brook’s 194 of 265 balls for Yorkshire at Canterbury equally did not produce a win. 

How the two players fare?

As a right hander, Brook, may be seen as the more direct fit and a better balance to the left-handed Ben Stokes in the middle order. Add that the Yorkshire connection and influence experience batting with Joe Root and the scales start to tip in Brook’s favour. 

Duckett does have previous Test experience with four Tests against Bangladesh and India. However, those were now seven years ago and one fifty vs Bangladesh in five otherwise very low scoring knocks, where Ashwin ruthlessly exploited a technical weakness, may be less relevant unless England think that South Africa may play two spinners again. 

image-l7otpiiwDuckett has previous experience at the Test arena

Whilst the current England set up may favour the ability to attack and potential to dominate, they have also been historically unforgiving of questionable temperament and misdemeanours. The pint Duckett launched over the venerable Jimmy Anderson in Perth in 2017 may be five years ago but I wonder if its recipient has forgotten? There have also been other incidents of lack of focus and fitness issues for Duckett. On balance, I think Brook will be the man at five come for the Oval on Thursday. 

The T20 Pakistan tour, Australia warm ups and the World Cup are altogether different, with ample opportunity for Brook, Duckett and others. Bairstow remember had been slated to open in Jason Roy’s absence for the World Cup and was already due to sit out the Pakistan trip. 

As England experiment in Karachi, Lahore, Perth and Canberra, I would expect Will Jacks, Duckett, Brook and Sam Curran all to have their chance to show their mettle, along with the likes of young Jordan Cox. All have been flexing their muscles in The Hundred to good effect. Duckett certainly has been posting scores for a Welsh Fire that collectively hasn’t even fizzled, let alone burst into flame. 

Carpe Diem is very much the order the day for a number of hopefuls amongst those heading to Pakistan.

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