England's record-breaking wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow has cast a fresh light on Australia's Magellan Ashes selection debate, claiming that if the job was judged solely on glovework then it's unlikely he would have earned his place behind the stumps.
Opinions remain divided on who will fill the keeper's role for Australia in the opening Ashes Test at the Gabba starting on November 23.
Incumbent Matthew Wade is favoured to retain his position, but a scarcity of recent runs at international and domestic level (his past 10 first-class matches have netted 328 runs at 23.43) means that support has been shown for his predecessor Peter Nevill, uncapped 26-year-old Alex Carey and even Western Australia opener Cameron Bancroft.
It's a conversation topic familiar to Bairstow, who made his Test debut in 2012 as a specialist batter and waited 18 months before Matt Prior's dumping during the 2013-14 Ashes tour presented him with a chance to take the gloves.
The 28-year-old, son of former England Test keeper David Bairstow, then found himself in a duel with Jos Buttler whose prowess with the gloves was considered superior until Bairstow secured the role in his own right on the back of a bountiful batting season for Yorkshire (1108 runs at 92.33) in 2015.
So while he has not been actively following the discussion about the make-up of Australia's starting XI for the Ashes opener, Bairstow concedes the background banter carries a familiar tune.
"It does resonate with me, because if you’re going on pure keeping, then (recently retired Nottinghamshire keeper) Chris Read and James Foster (from Essex, who last played Tests in 2007 and 2002 respectively) would have been keeping for England for however long," he said in Adelaide this week.
"They're still the two best glovemen in England, there’s no qualms about it in my opinion.
"But now it’s a case of, if you’re batting at number seven, you’ve still got to be scoring runs.
"In England especially, they’re wanting you to be batting at five and six and churning runs, as well as keeping – it's almost like an allrounder’s spot.
"Your glovework is your number one thing that you’re judged on, but if you’re averaging 10 or 12 or 20 then all of a sudden, because you’re doing that, your glovework gets notched down.
"So they might go for someone who’s a seven out 10, or a six out of 10 (as a keeper) because it just gives them a bit more balance."
Like Wade, who was recalled to Australia’s Test team to replace Nevill in the wake of Australia’s consecutive Test defeats to South Africa, a year ago, Bairstow has copped sustained scrutiny for the purity of his wicketkeeping.
But having been backed for a sustained run in the role for the past two years, he set a new benchmark in 2016 for the most Test dismissals in a calendar year, his 70 victims from England’s 17 matches last year eclipsing the 67 that Australia's Ian Healy claimed in 1993.
Bairstow is now ensconced as England’s first-choice keeper and in addition to his record-setting glovework, his return of 2071 runs at an average of 46.02 (with a highest score of 167 not out) is bettered by only three players to have served in a regular capacity as wicketkeeper-batsman.
South Africa's AB de Villiers (2067 runs at 57.42 from 24 Tests with the gloves), ex-Zimbabwe captain Andy Flower (4404 runs at 53.71 from 55) and Australia's Adam Gilchrist (5570 at 47.61 from 96).
While Australia batter Peter Handscomb, who is also an accomplished keeper, has indicated he prefers to concentrate on securing a batting berth rather than contemplate the dual role, Bairstow believes his form at Test level has improved with the two-pronged responsibility.
"I think it’s very individual, because the balance between how much it takes out of you compared to how much you’re still in the game," Bairstow said when asked about Handscomb’s circumstances.
"How much you’re mentally prepared, how much it helps with your batting because if you fail with your batting then you’ve potentially got another way of influencing the game with your keeping."
What isn't open to personal discretion, according to the England keeper who made his Ashes debut in the cauldron of the MCG on Boxing Day during Australia’s 5-0 whitewash in 2013-14 when he wasn’t even first-choice gloveman for Yorkshire, is the ever-present competition for the uniquely specialist role.
"It’s bloody tough," he said of the constant queue of contenders lining up for the keeper’s job.
"Going into your county games back home, or your (Sheffield) Shield games here knowing that you’re potentially in the running for a Test spot between two or three guys, guys that are wanting to stay in the team.
"Guys that are wanting to break back into the team, guys that may not have been in the team before.
"That also is a healthy competition as well.
"If you look in England, the one-day side for instance, at one point you had (fellow keeper Craig) Kieswetter, Buttler, and Bairstow, all three of us played in the same game.
"Even just recently, you had Jos that kept, myself, and Sam Billings. So there’s three guys there that could be keeping at any point.
"So it’s something that spurs you on, but at the same time it can be quite tiring as well.
"But I’m sure that it won’t be the first time that these (Australia) guys have been through it.
"They’ll have fought off people in the past to get to their state sides, into their first-grade sides, into the international sides previously."
2017-18 International Fixtures:
Magellan Ashes Series
First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets
Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Buy tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Buy tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Buy tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets
Fifth ODI Perth TBC, January 28. Join the ACF
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets
Gillette T20 INTL Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 13
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21