Cricket: England v South Africa

Geoffrey Boycott: Selectors deserve credit for backing Bairstow

With all the talk about his struggles with the short ball, the England set-up deserve credit for not panicking

Geoffrey Boycott: Selectors deserve credit for backing Bairstow

It’s true that Jonny Bairstow didn’t play the short ball particularly well against Kemar Roach, but the problem for him and any youngsters playing today is that there is hardly any fast bowling in county cricket.

Youngsters coming through in the sixties and seventies had the chance to play against Wayne Daniel, Sylvester Clarke, Malcolm Marshall, Colin Croft, Richard Hadlee and Michael Holding, and I could go on.

So at some stage you would get a hurry up from them. You would get a chance to understand how much more difficult it is to bat against quality fast bowling. You would be able to think about it and work on it a little bit.

For today’s youngsters, the biggest plus if that if they are considered good, they are brought under the ECB’s umbrella. They go to camps in India, Sri Lanka or the UAE, and they also play in the Lions. They are surrounded by coaches and get to practice with the England first team.

That’s really good compared to people like me. When I turned up for my first Test match I didn’t even know half the team. So in one way they are much better prepared now. But the minus is they don’t get to play fast bowling.

So I always felt that labelling Jonny Bairstow by saying he has a problem and will never solve it was dangerously wrong and unfair. My view is that if a guy is talented – which Jonny is – he will go away and do something about it.

To label someone is not a smart thing for many of the media to do. I’ve seen the kid from a very early age. His father was one of my best friends. I’ve watched his development and I known he can play.

The best thing about his innings was that he watched the ball closely as opposed to when he froze a bit against Roach. The key to batting against any bowling, but particularly quick bowling, is good footwork. You have to be able to transfer your weight from back foot to front foot. The great players have always been able to dance.

Bairstow did well because it was quite obvious to anybody – and also to him because he’s not stupid – that this South African attack was going to work him over. And they did do with the best seam bowling attack in the world.

He played it well. It wasn’t a lucky innings. His temperament and concentration were good. He’s not the finished article and will have his ups and downs. But an innings like that showed he’s got the talent and the mental toughness, and is up for the challenge.

Jonny will be pleased, his family will be pleased, and I’m pleased. But the England set-up can also pat themselves on the back. They made a judgment call about a young player they’ve seen. They didn’t panick. They’ve seen enough in other matches, and in the Lions camps, and in talking to him to know that the kid can play.