EXCLUSIVE: Davies handed England recall for Test series against Pakistan
Steve Davies will be handed a chance to revive his international career when he is named in England”s tour party for the Test series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.
Davies, ruled out of the World Cup squad when England had a late change of heart over their wicketkeeping plans, will travel to Dubai next month as Matt Prior”s deputy, a role he filled during the Ashes before he was dropped in the one-day leg of the Australian tour.
The Surrey man”s selection solves one of the few problems for England before they name their squad for a sensitive tour that will attract added scrutiny because of the jailing of three Pakistan players for the spot-fixing offences that marred the last meetings of the sides.
Hitting back: Davies has become a more confident player
Probable England squad
Strauss (capt), Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Morgan, Prior (wkt), Bresnan, Broad, Swann, Anderson, Tremlett, Finn, Panesar, Davies (wkt), Bopara.
Davies is a talented keeper-batsman who has thrived at The Kia Oval but England had concerns about his temperament before ruthlessly jettisoning him, believing him a little meek to become the leader of the team in the field, as they expect their keeper to be.
Yet since he revealed he was gay after the Australia tour, Davies”s true personality has emerged and he will be a lot more confident and relaxed on his return to the England set-up.
The move leaves Jonny Bairstow, who was widely expected to be elevated to the Test squad as back-up keeper, competing for one of only two places – that of reserve batsman and second spinner – up for grabs today before the selectors finalise their 16-man party.
Bairstow, the pick of the many emerging talents in the domestic game, is competing with Ravi Bopara, the man in possession, and possibly Samit Patel to support the established top six.
Bairstow and Bopara both had a poor time on the one-day tour in India in October but the Yorkshireman has a lot more credit in the bank than Bopara, who may be running out of chances to prove he can ever transfer his ability to the international arena.
Patel did well with bat and ball in India but, as Andy Flower told Sportsmail last month, there are still concerns about his fielding and fitness, and he will have to prove to England that he really is serious about getting into top shape if he is to make the cut.
Monty Panesar had a very good season with Sussex and even though leg-spinner Scott Borthwick, another promising emerging talent, offers more with the bat and in the field, it will be a surprise if Panesar”s left-arm spin is not included.
Stumped: Davies” England career took a knock when he was omitted from World Cup squad
There could even be room for Panesar and Patel in the squad to give England options on what are expected to be slow, turgid pitches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
England are very keen to go into the first Test, starting on January 17, with Eoin Morgan in their team because he is such a good player of spin. With Morgan at six and Prior at seven, England will have room for only two of the five fast bowlers expected to travel if they go into the series with two specialist spinners.
The most imaginative selection England could make would be that of Bairstow, who has shown a rare batting ability, particularly when playing a starring role on his full one-day debut against India at Cardiff, and is capable of following in the footsteps of his late father David in becoming a keeping all-rounder at the highest level.
Bairstow is a mature, level-headed character who is trying to learn from the mistakes he made in India on a return visit to the subcontinent with the Performance Squad, where he is practising and playing alongside England captain Andrew Strauss.
The question now is whether Strauss wants him in Dubai and Abu Dhabi for Test as well as limited-overs cricket. Temperament is crucial at the highest level and it is where Bairstow scores highest, as he showed on debut in Wales with England in danger of losing to India. There, he hit a brilliant unbeaten 41 off 21 balls.
“You can”t think about the occasion,” Bairstow says now. “You”ve just got to go in there as if you are back at school. I know it”s completely different but you have to think of it as just another innings.
“You say to yourself, “Right, there”s a guy running in and he”s 22 yards away trying to knock my head off “. You either face up or you don”t. There”s no time to think where you are or how important it is. You can”t think about who is bowling at you.
“You have your game plan in your head but you take everything out of the equation. If the ball goes in the air you try to catch it and when you”re batting you try to execute your shot as best you can.”
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It is a simple philosophy from an impressive young man whose story serves as an inspiration in the desperately sad aftermath of the death of Gary Speed.
For Bairstow”s hugely popular father took his own life at the age of 46, 13 years ago, and Jonny has grown into a cricketer and a person of whom David would be immensely proud.
The subject of David has understandably been off limits during interviews with Jonny on his emergence as a serious chip off the old block, but Bairstow Jnr was considered ready to talk about his dad during that England trip to India in October.
“I have some very fond memories of him, things that people have said,” explained Bairstow. “He was a great character and did a lot for the game.
“I remember going out to Barbados and playing on the beach with him and the outfield at the Kensington Oval. Fantastic memories that I will always cherish. Me being picked for England like he was is a very proud moment for our family and it is hopefully something that will continue.”
Bairstow was just eight when David died. “Perhaps it was easier for me, being so young, to deal with it because I didn”t really know everything that was going on,” he said. “But my mum wasn”t very well so it wasn”t easy for the family.
“It took a lot of hard work and effort to get everything back on track. We”re all pleased with the way things are going. We all pull together and that makes us stronger as a family.”
The pinnacle for that family would be for Bairstow Jnr to make his first Test squad, but the recall of Davies means the gloves will have to remain off for Bairstow for now.