English cricket’s iron man embarks on his first full tour of Sri Lanka insisting he can cope with the busiest workload of any international player.
Jonny Bairstow was in action for England an incredible 91 times across all formats in the 12 months that concluded with the end of the English summer, just pipping team-mate Joe Root by a day as the busiest man in world cricket.
That means Bairstow was in international action every four days for a year and then just had two weeks off before England arrived here in Colombo for a five-match one-day series in the most demanding conditions of them all.
Bairstow will take on the heat and humidity of the P Sara Oval in the first of two 50-over warm-up games against a Sri Lanka XI on Friday believing he can sustain the levels of excellence with bat and gloves that have made him one of England’s most important players.
‘That statistic is a good thing because it means that people want you to be part of their team,’ said Bairstow, now established as England’s No1 50-over opener. ‘It also means you’re in good condition physically and mentally because if you weren’t I’m not sure you’d get through all those games.
‘I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a short career when you’re playing for England and you have to relish every single bit of it. To be part of squads and teams makes me very lucky.
‘I’ve been away the last six or seven winters with England and I’m very proud of that. I hope to be part of the next seven winters, too, because I feel physically fit and mentally good. Yes there will be a point when I feel a bit tired but not at the moment.’
Bairstow’s enthusiasm for his workload is understandable because it took him so long to prove to England he should play in all formats and, as one of the fittest members of the squad, he has the attributes to cope with it.
Yet the figures show the demands placed on multi-format cricketers and it can only get tougher next year when England have a home World Cup and the Ashes then a winter touring New Zealand, South Africa and back in Sri Lanka.
And the rewards on offer in various franchise leagues are such that Root, for one, will perhaps misguidedly spend his only rest time ahead of England’s busiest ever year playing in Australia’s Big Bash in December.
Bairstow is certainly not complaining. ‘I always wanted to be a consistent presence in all three formats so to play for England every three and a half days for a year is not too bad,’ he said.
‘Yes, it can be very mentally challenging if things aren’t necessarily going your way because then you’ve got external pressures as well. And physically you’ve got to get up for it every day because keeping wicket and batting does take it out of you.
‘People say to me ‘is it a bad thing that you’re in the field rather than keeping in one-day cricket’ but it’s not because it keeps you fresh and it’s the same with Jos (Buttler) in the Tests.’
England will use these two matches on Friday and Saturday to give the whole of their squad match practice before the first of five one-day internationals against Sri Lanka in Dambulla next Wednesday.