JONNY BAIRSTOW pledged his future to Yorkshire for the next three years and then outlined his desire to cement his place as England’s first-choice Test wicketkeeper.
The talented batsman has put pen to paper on a new contract that will keep him at Headingley until at least December 2018.
And as he prepared for the opening game of England’s tour of South Africa today, Bairstow spoke positively of keeping his spot behind the stumps.
“I’ve only kept in three Test matches, so it’s an exciting time for me personally being able to hopefully press home the position,” said Bairstow, who is set to start the four-match series on Boxing Day after head coach Trevor Bayliss gave him the green light to retain the gloves over Jos Buttler.
“Having the confidence of the captain and coach going into the warm-up games, and hopefully the first Test, is something I can take on, be relaxed about and enjoy.
“That’s when I play my best cricket, and hopefully I’ll be able to do that not only in the warm-up games but going into the series.”
Bayliss’s support is a big boost for Bairstow, who has played as a specialist batsman in 17 of his 20 Tests.
Buttler was dropped for England’s last Test, against Pakistan in Sharjah, after a torrid run only to return to form in the subsequent one-day series.
“There’s always healthy competition,” said Bairstow, who hopes to get off to a good start in the first of two three-day warm-up matches against a South African Invitational XI in Potchefstroom.
“Jos has played some fantastic stuff in one-day cricket and Test cricket, so the competition for places is there.
“Hopefully, it will drive us on to become better players and better people.”
Bairstow is confident he can cope with the twin challenges of batting and keeping, which he has done so well at Yorkshire.
He is also relishing going head-to-head with the likes of South Africa batsman-wicketkeeper AB de Villiers.
“It’s going to be a learning curve,” he said. “I’ve been keeping wicket and batting at five for Yorkshire for six or seven years now, so it’s not something I envisage affecting me in terms of fatigue or anything like that.
“You want to do as well as you can against the best, and obviously comparing yourself to someone like AB is going to be a fantastic challenge, and if I do come out being the better of the batsmen-wicketkeepers or wicketkeeper-batsmen – whichever way you want to look at it – then I will have had a very good tour.”
What Bairstow would give to reproduce the stardust he sprinkled on the English summer.
The 26-year-old scored 1,108 runs at an average of 92 to help Yorkshire to their second successive County Championship title, and he had no hesitation in penning a new deal.
“I’m delighted to have signed a new contract with Yorkshire,” he said.
“We had a tremendous season in Championship cricket, and it’s great to be part of a culture where winning and being successful is at the heart of what drives the team on.
“The players are determined more than ever to ensure that we continue to set the benchmark high.
“It is an exciting time to be a part of Yorkshire and England cricket, and I look forward to contributing to the success of both teams.”
Bairstow’s delight is shared by director of cricket Martyn Moxon, who is thrilled the player has committed his future.
“It is great news that Jonny has signed on,” said Moxon.
“He has been a big part of our success in the last few years and, as we all know, he is an extremely talented cricketer.
“He is maturing all the time, and he is an integral part of what we do.
“His best years are yet to come, and I have great admiration for Jonny and his talents.”
Moxon added: “The next phase for him will be to achieve consistency in his performances with England.
“He has a great chance in South Africa to fulfil his goals against one of the best seam attacks in the world.
“We’ll all be watching on hoping he and the other Yorkshire lads succeed.”
Yorkshire have also handed deals to two of their Academy products.
Seam bowler Jared Warner, who turned 19 last month, and all-rounder Matthew Waite, who turns 20 on Christmas Eve, have signed junior professional contracts until December 2017.
Warner is currently in Sri Lanka with England U-19s, while Waite has played four first team games.