ANDREW GALE is backing Jonny Bairstow to recover from “headbutt-gate” and believes Australia have “picked on the wrong guy”.
The Yorkshire first-team coach said Bairstow will be even more fired-up and insisted: “Don’t be surprised if he has the series of his life.”
Bairstow was accused of headbutting Australia opening batsman Cameron Bancroft at a bar in Perth earlier in the tour.
The incident only came to light during last week’s first Test in Brisbane when Australia’s fielders raised it close to the stump microphone, which England believe was a deliberate strategy to unsettle Bairstow and to set a media hare running.
“I think with how the Australian press works there’s always one pantomime villain over there,” said Gale. “It was Stuart Broad a few years back and they’re probably trying to do that to Jonny Bairstow now.
“But Australia have picked on the wrong guy to be honest because we’ve seen how Jonny is when he’s got a point to prove. He’s made a career out of that so don’t be surprised if he has the series of his life going forward.”
England claimed in the build-up to today’s second Test in Adelaide that the incident had been blown out of all proportion.
Director of cricket Andrew Strauss described it as “a jest, a joke… a little bump of heads… something that he (Bairstow) does with his rugby mates”.
Bancroft admitted that there was “no malice” in it during a post-match press conference in Brisbane in which Australia captain Steve Smith giggled uncontrollably at his side like a schoolboy attending a sex education lesson.
However, Strauss was moved to impose a midnight curfew on the team as Australia brazenly milked an incident that embarrassed England, coming so soon after Ben Stokes’s arrest following a street fight in Bristol.
“I don’t actually know the ins-and-outs of it (the Bairstow episode),” added Gale. “We’ve all done stupid things in jest when we’ve had a few beers, but I don’t actually know what happened.
“Jonny’s probably had a few beers and just got a little bit giddy and it’s been blown out of all proportion. I think he’ll be glad to get back out on the field this week because it’s been a bit of a circus, in all honesty.”
Bairstow scored nine and 42 in Brisbane as England crashed to a 10-wicket defeat. Batting at No 7 (with Moeen Ali preferred to move up to No 6 in Stokes’s absence), he top-edged a first innings pull off Pat Cummins to wicketkeeper Tim Paine – a shot he might not have attempted had he had more confidence in the tail.
In the second innings, Bairstow guided a delivery from Mitchell Starc straight to Peter Handscomb at third-man, apparently unsettled after Australia’s sledging.
But many believe that Bairstow – arguably now England’s second-best batsman behind Joe Root – is wasted down at No 7, a view Gale echoes.
“I’d like to see Jonny at No 6 to be honest,” he said. “For me, he’s one of the best batsmen in the country, so don’t hide him at seven, put him at six.”
Gale also rejected calls made by some after Brisbane to push Bairstow up the order only on condition that he gives up the wicketkeeping gloves.
Former England batsman Mark Butcher said: “This is a hobby horse of mine. Bairstow is in the best five or six batsmen in the country. I would have him at five but he wouldn’t keep wicket. It’s not that his wicket-keeping hasn’t been any good, it’s been excellent, but if he is going to score the amount of runs he is capable of doing at number five you don’t want him spending a day and a half having kept wicket.”
Another former England batsman, Rob Key, concurred: “I wouldn’t have Bairstow keeping. It’s not U10s cricket where someone has to keep wicket in order not to upset them. For the better of the team he should bat at five.”
But Gale maintained: “Jonny wants to keep wicket and he’s improved a lot. I think his keeping is really, really good now, and he’s worked really hard at it.
“I think he’d see that as a massive negative if you took the gloves off him, and that could affect him in the wrong way. I’d keep him keeping wicket, I’d just have him batting at six.”
Gale kept an eye on the Brisbane Test and believes England are capable of fighting back, but he stressed the importance of winning the key moments.
“I watched a little bit of it last week, stayed up for a couple of hours here and there,” he said. “I thought England performed quite well in parts of the game, but you know in Test cricket that if you lose an hour here or there as bad as they (England) did, that you’re going to be really up against it.
“Australia just won those key passages of play.”