Jonny Bairstow insists Joe Root’s England are already stronger for all the travails which have come their way this winter.
Bairstow predicts, irrespective of the outcome of the final Test against New Zealand in Christchurch, that his fellow Yorkshireman’s team will begin the home summer on an upward curve.
England closed the penultimate day of a winter campaign which began more than five months ago still searching for a first Test win in seven – and set to lose a second successive series, after their 4-0 Ashes trouncing, unless they can take 10 New Zealand wickets in three sessions.
They managed none in 23 overs before bad light forced an early close at Hagley Park, where England declared on 352 for nine to leave their hosts a national-record chase of 382 – or alternatively to bat out the match for a 1-0 series win.
After New Zealand reached 42 without loss, Bairstow said: “This winter hasn’t necessarily gone too well, but there are so many reasons for that.”
England encountered myriad unforeseen issues during their Ashes defeat, including the absence of key all-rounder Ben Stokes while he waited to discover if he would be charged over an altercation outside a Bristol nightclub last September.
Asked how Root has fared on his first tours as captain, Bairstow said: “I think he’ll have learned a lot.
“It’s obviously been a tough winter, (but) it’s not anything that’s down to him. There’s been things that will have cropped up that he won’t have expected.
“Yes, he’s the captain, but there’s 10 other guys out on the field that have an opportunity to influence the game. It’s not just down to one bloke – and I think (he’s) only going to get stronger.”
Bairstow senses an increasing cohesion in the ranks.
He added: “Going from someone in the dressing-room scoring runs, to being the leader of the team, it is very different – leading team meetings, selection, having tough conversations with people to leave them out, having confidence to stand up to people at times.
“It’s a learning process, and I think he’s done really well.
“The way we came out in this Test was a lot better than we have throughout the winter, and that’s no coincidence – after having a couple of chats – and I think we’re in a decent [situation] to lead into the summer.”
As a batsman, Root has developed an unwelcome knack of failing to turn 50s into hundreds – and did so for the ninth successive time after reaching 54 here.
But Bairstow said: “I don’t think it’s a problem at all. Having someone that averages 52-53, there’s no-one else in our team that does that.
“We’re very fortunate to have our leader doing that, and it’s only a matter of time before he converts the 50s into hundreds.”
He is also optimistic England can force an overdue victory.
Their task is made no easier by playing conditions, pre-agreed under the tour’s official memorandum of understanding, that play cannot start earlier to make up lost overs on the final day – with time instead added on to the evening session, despite the probability of bad light.
“We don’t know how long it’s going to be, if the light comes in,” said Bairstow.
“But there’s definitely enough in the pitch for us to take the wickets.”
New Zealand batting coach Craig McMillan congratulated openers Jeet Raval and Tom Latham on survival so far against James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
“It was really impressive,” he said.
“It was obviously a tough period, against two world-class new-ball bowlers – so they had to work really hard to get through.”