Two up and two to play is not so bad when you hold the Ashes.
There may even have been a temptation for the selectors to experiment with those Ashes secure, though this was wisely rejected. England could play Graham Onions at Chester-le-Street instead of Tim Bresnan, but if they do it will be on the grounds that they think Onions is in the best side for that venue, not from a desire to experiment or rotate.
Two up and two to play is also a handy position when 50% of the batting lineup is not functioning too smoothly. In this series Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Jonny Bairstow have yet to deliver major innings. Quite rightly England are biding their time. In any case Cook is the captain, currently unassailable, England's leading century-maker, tormentor extreme of the Aussies in the last Ashes series and has never been dropped.
Nor has Trott since his debut against Australia at The Oval in 2009 when he replaced an out-of-sorts Ravi Bopara. Recall the anxiety before that vital Test and the pleas from the sages to sound out Marcus Trescothick, to summon up Mark Ramprakash, to bring back Robert Key. After just one match Trott made all that sound ridiculous. Trott has remained a reassuring presence ever since, though there is some concern that he is becoming a little flighty in his old age. He is scoring more quickly but less prolifically, which is not the desired combination. Even so, he has plenty of credit left in his account.
The same cannot be said of Bairstow. He has flickered in this series and probably deserves to remain in the team, having been dragged around countless grounds here and in the subcontinent for so long carrying drinks and wearing the ridiculous bibs that the ICC insists must be worn by 12th men during international matches. He has made minor contributions with the bat against Australia, most notably a useful 67 at Lord's, while fielding with vim everywhere.
However, his position is neither secure nor straightforward. It is complicated by the fact that he has a different role for England than when playing for Yorkshire. In international cricket he is currently a specialist batsman; in county cricket he is also a wicketkeeper.
This situation helps Bairstow when the selectors sit down to choose a touring party. "What about the second keeper?" they ask since there must always be a second keeper in the squad even in this age of rapid communications. If Matt Prior were to break a finger in the warm-ups in Brisbane in November there has to be someone on the ground capable of taking the gloves even if he may not be the second choice as Test keeper. Bairstow fits that role happily, which is to his advantage. Moreover, his presence in a touring squad allows for an extra bowler or batsman.
But for England in England Bairstow is just a batsman and that can be restricting. All-rounders have a different approach to batting because this is not their only function in the team. Hence they tend to bat with the brakes off.
There are some spectacular examples of all-rounders, who might well have been capable of playing Test cricket as specialist batsmen, but who were far more dangerous because they had another string to their bow. From behind the stumps there was Adam Gilchrist, a devastating hitter – but would he have allowed himself to play like that without possession of the gloves? Currently, there is Prior.
Of the bowlers Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff would surely have chosen to block more often if they had not been frontline pacemen. Add to the mix Kapil Dev and Mike Procter, most probably Keith Miller and maybe even the great Garry Sobers. All-rounders tend to bat with so much more freedom and for England Bairstow, a natural strokemaker, is denied that luxury.
Thus it makes sense to give him more time to make the transition to Test level. The bowlers are better, the scrutiny more unrelenting and the pressure more intense. It is a test of his technique, which no one pretends is perfect, and his ability to adapt to a role in which, without the gloves he wears for Yorkshire, he might have to wait for what seems like an eternity to make a contribution.
In short, he needs a score. For if England secure the series at Chester-le-Street with Bairstow failing twice they might well contemplate a little "experimentation" at The Oval.
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