Atherton: Bairstow over Foakes is ‘right call’ for England

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Jonny Bairstow’s return to the England squad at the expense of Ben Foakes for the upcoming Test match against Ireland was the ‘right call,’ says Sky Sports Cricket’s Michael Atherton.

Bairstow has not played for England since breaking his leg and dislocating his ankle in September, Foakes impressing with the gloves and the bat in the winter Test series in Pakistan and New Zealand that the Yorkshire man missed.

The England selection decision was them made even harder as Harry Brook, who replaced Bairstow at No 5 in the batting line-up in the last Test vs South Africa, has since made himself a definite pick having already scored 809 runs in 10 Test innings, including four centuries at an average of 80.9.

Despite such consistency already prevalent in the squad, after Bairstow’s thrilling displays with the bat for England last summer that included four centuries in five innings against New Zealand and India, Atherton believes he has earned an immediate place in the England side when “fully fit”, even if it is at the expense of Foakes.

“I think it is the right call and I think that is the minority view from testing the water on social media,” said Atherton.

“The problem for wicketkeepers is only one person can do the job and Foakes, of course, is an outstanding wicketkeeper and he has done pretty well for England.

“But Jonny Bairstow, the way that he played last summer, Brendon McCullum had said that once he is fit he is going to get back into the team.

“Some people are saying he should open but he is not an opener, he has opened once in first-class cricket and has never opened in Test cricket.

“He has proven himself to be an outstanding wicketkeeper-batter in the years he did it. He did it in 49 Test matches for England but hasn’t done it really since 2019.

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England’s Jonny Bairstow scored 97 runs off 88 balls for Yorkshire’s second XI on his return from a broken leg he sustained on a golf course last year

“That is the issue really, it is a fitness issue. He had a very bad break of his leg when he fell on the golf course and wicketkeeping is a physically arduous thing over five days.

“So you have to take it on trust that he is fully fit to do the job. He has come back for Yorkshire and done a bit of keeping but not that much and the medical staff clearly know more than I do.

“Once he is fit, I think it is right he is back in the team and that is the only way to get him back in the team.

“You can’t move Harry Brook from No 5 given how Brook had played over the winter months so, as tough as it is on Ben Foakes, I think it is the right call.”

‘Not the last’ of Foakes for England

Although Foakes now looks to be on the fringes of the England squad for the Ashes, Atherton believes he can remain hopeful as if any injury arises, he will be one of the first called up.

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Nasser Hussain breaks down the batting talent of Harry Brook and explains why England should look to invest in him

“The silver lining for Ben Foakes is that he is very much there should anything happen,” added Atherton.

“If Bairstow gets injured then Foakes comes in clearly and England’s next tour after the Ashes is to the sub-continent and they might go for a different balance of the team there with two of three spinners maybe in the team.

“They might think Ben Foakes is the man to take that role then.

“It is not the last of Ben Foakes I am sure and he has proved himself to be a top-class keeper when he has played.”

When is The Ashes?

Stokes will lead England for the first time in an Ashes series, with the hosts looking to regain the urn for the first time since 2015, and – after a four-day Test against Ireland – it will all begin at Edgbaston on June 16.

The series will then move on to Lord’s (June 28-July 2) and Headingley (July 6-10), the scene of Stokes’ 2019 heroics, before finishing at Emirates Old Trafford (July 19-23) and The Kia Oval (July 27-31).

Watch every match from the men’s and women’s Ashes live on Sky Sports. You can also follow videos and over-by-over text commentary across Sky Sports’ digital platforms. Live coverage of the first Test is live from June 16-20 on Sky Sports Cricket.

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