JONNY BAIRSTOW is confident England can finally put all the off-pitch distractions behind them in order to hit back against Australia and go on to retain The Ashes.
The current tour Down Under seems to have created as much media interest for what has gone on off the pitch as on it, as Yorkshire’s Bairstow knows only too well to his cost.
As if the furore over his ‘headbutt’ on Cameron Bancroft in Perth before the Test series had not been enough, the weekend’s revelations concerning Lions tour party member Ben Duckett pouring a drink over James Anderson’s head gave the collective press, TV and internet media plenty more material to chew over ahead of this week’s third and, possibly, deciding Test in Perth.
Duckett, 23, has since been suspended for the remainder of the England Lions tour of Australia and received a final written warning over his conduct.
But, coming on top of Bairstow’s bizarre ‘coming together’ with Bancroft in a Perth bar and the much-publicised pre-tour incident in Bristol concerning all-rounder and vice-captain Ben Stokes – currently keeping his eye in playing some 40-over cricket over in New Zealand – it has led to an unprecedented level of scrutiny on what England’s players do once off the field of play.
Bairstow admits it has been difficult to avoid all the negative publicity over the past few weeks – of which he has formed a central part – but believes only by getting their game right out in the middle can England start to create headlines and take up air time for the right reasons.
“There’s been a lot of stuff spoken about since we’ve been over here,” said Bairstow, speaking ahead of the third Test at the WACA, which starts on Thursday. “We knew it was going to be tough coming to Australia, the cricket is always going to be tough.
“But that’s what we can control and we need to control more of that. I’m sure you can imagine what the toughest part of the tour has been. Naturally, it’s been everywhere and all that anyone has been talking about – whether it’s right or wrong, true or false. It is what people have been talking about.
“But we need to just put all that to the back of our minds when we get on the pitch – go out there and try and do something special.”
At 2-0 down and with three Tests to play heading to a venue that has brought only one win in 13 matches for England – even then against an Australian side severely depleted after the exodus to Kerry Packer’s controversial World Series – it does not augur particularly well for Joe Root’s side.
Yes, it is frustrating, but we have a group of players who can win games here and we still have three chances to put things right.Yorkshire and England’s Jonny Bairstow
But Bairstow is having none of it and is almost boastful in his belief that England can hit back from defeats in Brisbane and Adelaide to square the series.
“As a group, there’s no way we see this series as being over,” said Bairstow. “We’ve lost two games, but we’ve been in both of them for decent periods of time. We just need to do what we’ve been doing for longer and do it in the key periods of the games where we’ve come unstuck.
“So, yes, it is frustrating, but we have a group of players who can win games here and we still have three chances to put things right.”
One reason Bairstow appears so confident that England can turn things around over the next three weeks or so lies in his faith in Yorkshire team-mate and England captain Root.
Still a relative rookie when it comes to international captaincy, the Sheffield-born batsman has impressed since taking over the reins from Alastair Cook earlier this year. Naturally, in the more intense heat of an Ashes battle. his tactics and decision-making were always going to come under a bigger spotlight in Australia.
For example, some have queried Root’s decision to field first in Adelaide after winning the toss, with some critics suggesting he had handed a significant advantage to the hosts at a ground where many observers felt the conditions favoured England more.
Ultimately, Root’s players were left dispirited by a second heavy defeat, the 120-run loss coming hot on the heels of a 10-wicket pounding in Brisbane. But while there may be critics outside the dressing room, Bairstow revealed that Root has the total backing of his players.
“I think Joe’s captaincy has been brilliant – there aren’t many things that you can fault with what he’s done,” added Bairstow.
“He’s still learning as a captain, but if you’re captain of England you’re going to be learning for a while.”
Yorkshire Tea are sponsors of National Cricket Week, working in partnership with the Chance to Shine programme, which works with 1,500 schools across the UK aiming to encourage youngsters to take up cricket.