England's Jonny Bairstow is in superlative nick with the bat, the latest highlight being his unbeaten 167 against Sri Lanka at Lord's. © Getty Images

England’s Jonny Bairstow is in superlative nick with the bat, the latest highlight being his unbeaten 167 against Sri Lanka at Lord’s. © Getty Images

There was a monotony to Australia’s method during their decade at the top of world cricket from the mid 1990s: win the toss, bat first, make 400, let Warne and McGrath do the rest. Especially at home, this was more or less how they did it for a generation.

The way England have gone about this series against Sri Lanka has had a little of that process about it. Sure, it hasn’t been as clinical with the top order tons that were a feature of those days. But the result has been the same due to one principal reason: depth.

The 144 put on for England’s seventh wicket between Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes on the second day of the final Test at Lord’s was the most recent example where the visitors’ dreams of skittling England were dashed despite opening up their lower-middle order to premature inquisition.

At this point, let’s hit pause on that very handy partnership and Bairstow’s masterful innings. Other than to say that the he is in superlative nick with the bat; no one in the country going better.

Jumping forward on Friday (June 10), the champion bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad had a ropey start by their standards. Seven boundaries flowed in their ten overs to begin, only two fewer than the Sri Lankans managed in the entirety of their first dig in Durham.

It was their support act in Woakes who took up where he left off and won the outside edge of Dimuth Karunaratne with his first ball. Conventional as you like, the perfect start. But Bairstow inexplicably grassed it. Woakes put his arms out in dismay – how did this happen? Bairstow gestured awkwardly – he didn’t know.

Make no mistake, it was just as bad as Dinesh Chandimal’s howler that defined Sri Lanka’s worst day on tour. It also constituted Bairstow’s worst miss of the series; indictable of itself that there’s even a list to select from.

Missed chances can be glossed over at the moment on account of the fact that Sri Lanka are a work in progress. You know who’s not, though? Pakistan. They’re in a stronger position than they have been in a generation and the team England play the next time they pop on the creams.

It’s very reasonable that Bairstow’s blunders are partly derived from how mentally and physically taxing it is batting for days at a time and peeling off hundreds. Frustrating as it’ll be to him after working so hard to win the wicketkeeper-batsman gig, his secondary role – as it’s printed on the label – is where he is now of greatest value. He wouldn’t be the first to be liberated of the gloves to narrow the focus with significant dividends; a bloke called Sangakkara comes to mind.

But the corollary of that aforementioned depth, alongside Bairstow’s superlative batting, is some timely flexibility in selection. Especially if a vacancy is created in Nick Compton’s existing spot.

The orthodoxy would be to pick a like-for-like at No. 3, the same way that Compton was meant to be a successor of sorts to Jonathan Trott; fixing a weakness. The alternative is to play to a strength. Namely: what’s Joe Buttler up to? No more domestic T20 assignments overseas? Good. Get him into a red-ball net and ready to take those gloves back.

It’s very reasonable that Bairstow’s blunders are partly derived from how mentally and physically taxing it is batting for days at a time and peeling off hundreds. Frustrating as it’ll be to him after working so hard to win the wicketkeeper-batsman gig, his secondary role – as it’s printed on the label – is where he is now of greatest value. He wouldn’t be the first to be liberated of the gloves to narrow the focus with significant dividends; a bloke called Sangakkara comes to mind.

This would necessitate a move for Joe Root to three. Despite not having batted there in Tests before, it’s hard to mount a case that he isn’t prepared for such an elevation, doubly so as he was an opener earlier in his career. And let’s be honest: he may as well be at first drop the way the incumbent is going there at the moment.

And the natural progression, Bairstow to second down, creating a top four – also including Root and Alastair Cook – potentially as effective as any going around.

An enthusiastic six-through-eight of Moeen Ali, Buttler and Woakes isn’t without exposure, but taken as a whole, this top eight’s composition is altogether stronger, with the current issue behind the wickets dealt with in the same transaction.

But back to the fun bit for Bairstow. He began today much as he concluded day one: hitting the cover off the ball. Albeit to fielders more often than not, but certain watchers would have raced to YouTube when he played a one-handed cover drive reminiscent of Kim Hughes on the same field.

What’s Joe Buttler up to? No more domestic T20 assignments overseas? Good. Get him into a red-ball net and ready to take those gloves back. © Getty Images

What’s Joe Buttler up to? No more domestic T20 assignments overseas? Good. Get him into a red-ball net and ready to take those gloves back. © Getty Images

Along with Woakes, they drove and scampered between the wickets. The intent was clear: to force the visitors into the ground just as they had on the second day at Headingley and Chester-le-Street.

Woakes got into his own groove with two boundaries in three balls off Nuwan Pradeep; the first sweetly timed past midwicket and the second slayed behind point. An equally dominant cover-driven boundary precipitated his first half-century. It felt right that it came at a strike-rate of exactly 50 given the even-handed nature of the contribution.

It allowed Bairstow to ride shotgun as he progressed towards what the England hierarchy call a Daddy Hundred. Before lunch he’d secured both that 150 milestone and a new highest score in Tests.

To Sri Lanka’s credit, they persisted. When Bairstow and Woakes started getting away from them, Angelo Mathews did as he had on Thursday by bringing himself into the attack. His presence generated the first maiden of the day at the other end, and Rangana Herath was good enough to catch Woakes in his follow through shortly thereafter. Woakes will learn a lesson: Don’t telegraph to a chap with over 300 wickets that you’re going to charge him.

Then for the first time this series, the tourists were able to cut off the England tail before contributing to any further damage. For Herath’s part, four wickets almost understated his work. For a man who took wickets in England at over 40 apiece coming into this match, this was a reminder of his skills in what’s likely his final Test in the country. He deserved to go up on that honours board.

Bairstow’s name too will. He enjoyed his walk from the field after seven hours and 167 beaten runs. In just over five months he’s broken through for his first century, then the hundred he relished at home in Leeds, and now one at headquarters.

An hour later came the dropped catch that helped Sri Lanka back into the game, just as their shelling of him had done the reverse the previous afternoon. It was a chance they didn’t miss with Kaushal Silva well on his way to a century of his own overnight. Cricket’s good like that, with a leveller often just around the corner.