Taking the wicket-keeping gloves off Jonny Bairstow makes sense for this game because of his broken finger — no matter what the player himself says.
My gut feeling is that it is probably in the best interests of the team in the long term. But it is a big decision and big decisions are rarely straightforward.
What makes me uncomfortable is that Bairstow has worked incredibly hard on his keeping since that series in South Africa a few years ago where he looked fallible.
Jonny Bairstow was replaced by Jos Buttler as wicketkeeper for the fourth Test against India
Now, it is as if they have rewarded him by taking away the gloves. As a general principle, that does not sit easily with me and I’m not surprised he is hardly ecstatic.
It is also true that your mentality risks changing when you are no longer keeping wicket. When you are a specialist batsman, as Bairstow will now be at No 4, you have nothing else to fall back on if the runs start to dry up. The gloves can be an insurance against that and Bairstow has spoken about this in the past.
So, assuming Jos Buttler is England’s Test keeper in the medium term, I hope people cut Bairstow a bit of slack if the runs stop flowing. He has made a sacrifice for the team and deserves some leeway. One of his biggest challenges will be adjusting to a new mindset.
Buttler gets in practice with the wicketkeeper gloves having been reinstated for the fourth Test
The other side of the equation is that Buttler has not been England’s Test keeper since the tour of the UAE in 2015-16, when he was on a downward curve after struggling in that summer’s Ashes.
He looked exhausted at the end of the Ashes and kept getting out cheaply to Nathan Lyon. He is going to be one of the busiest cricketers on the planet in the next year — with England tours of Sri Lanka and the West Indies, T20 franchise cricket, a World Cup and another Ashes, assuming his Test form holds up.
So, while Bairstow has grown used to keeping in Test cricket, Buttler will have to reacquaint himself with the role just after he has scored an excellent hundred at Trent Bridge.
England have to be careful they do not end up diminishing his skills, because keeping wicket in all formats is going to take it out of him.
My point is not that England have made the wrong call. It is that any fundamental change to a team brings with it potential downsides and I’d like to see the selectors monitor the keeping situation. They should always give themselves the option of switching back.
Moving Bairstow up a place probably works better for the team ahead of the fourth Test
One argument in the selectors’ favour is that England have plenty of keepers doing the rounds but not many No 4s. And that is why, ultimately, moving Bairstow up a place probably works better for the team. He is one of the few players capable of scoring big runs.
That brings us to the decision to drop Ollie Pope. England have to be careful here. I’ve been an admirer of what Ed Smith has done so far. He has been bold.
And some people will argue that you try to win the game in front of you — especially if it seals a series win over India — because the future then takes care of itself.
But we need to make sure we don’t go back to the bad old days of short-term picks. At some stage, Smith and his fellow selectors will have to look at long-term decision-making. That can get easily forgotten in the desperation to close out a home series, but it is where Smith will earn his wages in the months ahead.