CricViz analyst Ben Jones profiles Jonny Bairstow.
Jonny Bairstow’s Test career has been a two-part affair. Inconsistent selection and poor form plagued his first 14 Tests before a more prolonged absence out of the team in 2015 led to him reconstructing his technique in county cricket. That season he averaged 92.33 and forced his way back into the team. Since then Bairstow has begun to fulfil his obvious ability, averaging 45.53 and becoming a vital part of England’s dynamic middle order. By the end of 2015 he had replaced Jos Buttler as England’s wicket-keeper – a role in which he has become increasingly assured. Bairstow’s keeping responsibilities and position down the order belie a batsman of serious quality possessing a robust game against both pace and spin.
Bairstow is a naturally positive batsman who plays an attacking shot to 30% of his deliveries (global average 24%) and defends only 27% (global average 32%). This counter-attacking approach makes him a dangerous player down the order and is evident in his Test run rate of 3.36 runs per over (global average 3.06).
In the first phase of his Test career he was rushed by some short bowling from Kemar Roach but a remodelled high back-lift has tightened his game against such an attack and he now averages 59.50 when hooking and pulling pace, and 56.44 against the short ball regardless of the shot.
Although attention focussed on Bairstow’s approach against short bowling following his struggles against Roach, he actually had more difficulties with full, straight bowling at the start of his career – with four of his first six dismissals being either bowled or lbw. What has been particularly impressive about Bairstow’s second coming is that as well as seeming to overcome his short ball problems he has improved his average against balls in line with the stumps from 15.33 to 61.75 and against full bowling from 25.05 to 59.25. Whether this should be attributed to technical tweaks or perhaps simply more consistent selection is unclear but what is certain is that he is now a batsman of high quality adept against short and full bowling. Now it is only the tricky in-between length, where he averages 31.50 (global average 26.13), that causes him consistent problems.
Bairstow is notably strong against width, averaging 51.87 against wide balls from pace (global average 41.97) due largely to scoring at more than a run a ball with the drive, cut and steer shot – this is well illustrated by his Boundary Heatmap. Unspectacular averages of 41.16 with the drive and 34.20 with the cut suggests that although his attacking approach brings quick runs it also keeps bowlers in the game.
His method against spin is defined by a busy approach – of England’s players only Root has a lower dot-ball percentage against spinners since Bairstow’s return to the team. This stems from a strong all-round game, and willingness to play the spinners from all over the crease. Coming down the track, he averages 52.50 (global average 37.09), driving he averages an even stronger 90.25 – pointing to concise footwork, and he can also play from the crease, averaging 45.20 when sweeping.
Bairstow’s record in South Africa, where conditions are more similar to Australia than anywhere in the world, is excellent. In four Tests there at the start of 2016 Bairstow averaged 71.80. On those bouncy pitches, Bairstow upped his attacking shot percentage to 42% from his career average of 30%. Given Ben Stokes’ likely absence in England’s middle-order Bairstow is well-suited to carry the lower-order’s attacking burden. He also averages more in Stokes’ number six position – 45.91 – than in any other place in the order.
Bairstow’s average of 30.91 against left arm pace is his lowest against any bowler-type making for a favourable match-up with Mitchell Starc. It appears to be the angle that troubles Bairstow who averages 29.40 when left-armers go over the wicket compared to 39.50 from round the wicket. Given his earlier struggles against full and straight bowling it could be worth Starc – a bowler of high pace – testing Bairstow with such a plan. However, Bairstow’s game is now significantly improved and statistics suggest Australia would be better served aiming for the difficult in-between length. They should maintain a tight line though – against balls in the corridor outside off stump he averages an impressive 48.50
Against spin Bairstow is very busy, playing 38% rotating shots (global average 29%) and very effective when attacking off spin – averaging 103.00; this manifests itself in a scoring rate of 4.04 against off spin. Nathan Lyon may prove to be a tricky spinner to play in this manner though: since the start of 2015 Lyon has pitched 50% of his deliveries on a good line and length (global average 41.50%), suggesting he could be difficult to get away. Australia is an unforgiving place for spin bowlers and England will be wary to not gift Lyon wickets. How Bairstow approaches the match-up will be fascinating.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz. @benjones_13