England v South Africa – 3rd Test Preview – Unlucky Breaks

England have won five Tests so far this summer and are looking to make it six, but will have to do so without their top scoring batter this summer. Jonny Bairstow slipped whilst walking to the tee at his local golf course and sustained an injury which requires him to undergo surgery and sees him unavailable for both this Test and the upcoming T20 World Cup.

It is a hammer blow for Brendon McCullum and the Test team. The success of Bazball has been built around Bairstow, who averaged 75.66 at a strike rate of 96.59 in Tests this summer. It was a freakishly excellent run of form which battered the opposition bowlers into submission and helped transform England from perennial losers into dominant winners.

The unenviable job of replacing Bairstow falls to fellow Yorkshireman, Harry Brook. He’s certainly in good form himself this year, scoring 967 runs in just eight Division 1 matches, but Test cricket is a big step up from the bowling he will have faced before. He has been heavily hyped in the lead up to today, which makes me fear that there is too much pressure on the young cricketer.

Brook is the only change to the England team from the previous match, with Ollie Robinson and Stuart Broad preferred over Potts and Overton whilst openers Alex Lees and Zak Crawley manage to exceed expectations by finishing the season. Averaging 25.00 and 18.26 over the six Tests, I feel that both players should be batting for their place in the winter tours. Whether that is actually the case with Crawley (First-class batting average: 29.42), who has a very strong supporter in England Director Of Cricket/Head Selector Rob Key, remains to be seen.

Another outcome of Bairstow’s injury has been the return of Alex Hales to the England fold. It had been heavily hinted that Rob Key wanted Hales in the white ball teams, saying in his first press conference in charge that the batter had ‘served his time’ away from the team, but Hales wasn’t included in the initial squad for the T20 World Cup. Things changed rapidly after the squad was announced, with news of Bairstow’s injury following almost immediately after. England suddenly had a need for an aggressive, experienced player in their middle order, and Hales was called up.

Hales’ inclusion is not without its controversies. He has a history of bad behaviour which includes his night out in Bristol which led to Ben Stokes facing affray charges and at least one failed recreational drug test. More recently, he was named in Azeem Rafiq’s testimony regarding allegations of racism within English cricket. Former captain Eoin Morgan seemed adamant that he should never play again, and one significant part of Ben Stokes’ public rehabilitation after Bristol appears to have been completely separating himself from the ‘bad influence’ of Hales.

However, sport is not a moral pursuit. No more so than politics or business, both of which cricket often resembles. The ECB clearly feels that the England team are more likely to win the T20 World Cup with Hales than without him, and that’s all that matters to them. Whether this damages the unity within the dressing room, and whether that has any effect on the performances on the field, remains to be seen.

If you have any comments about the match, banning cricketers playing golf, or anything else, please leave them below.