Bairstow the warrior shows up to lead England's fight

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07 Jan 2022 | 01:44 PM
authorShubh Aggarwal

Bairstow the warrior shows up to lead England's fight

On a tough day at the office, Jonny Bairstow showed every bit of his defiance and courage to score his most challenging Test hundred till date

Jonny Bairstow has had a topsy-turvy ride in his Test career thus far. When he finished with 1,470 runs in the year 2016 alone, scoring three imposing hundreds, he was earmarked as the upcoming star. But the following year, he became a regular in England’s plans of a white-ball resurgence. That too as an opener. Bairstow became a classic example that red-ball and white-ball success don’t go hand in hand for a modern-age batsman.

Eventually, he lost his wicketkeeping-batsman slot to Jos Buttler, who came to the Test setup based on the match-changing potential he had shown in white-ball cricket. 

Returning to the Test team in December 2019, he found the wicketkeeping gloves are gone for good. He was not happy with the situation. In times when many wicketkeeping batters like to shun the gloves to reduce their workload, Bairstow didn’t like the move presumably because it took away a guaranteed slot. 

Since then, there have been numerous times when Bairstow’s Test career is deemed done and dusted. A big reason why he has remained relevant is the disenchanting performances from his successors, including Buttler himself. That is how he made it to this Ashes trip. That is how he got into the XI in Melbourne after Ollie Pope failed to grasp his opportunity. 

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On the third morning of the Sydney Test, England appeared to be the punching bag again at 36/4. Akin to Melbourne, it seemed like only a matter of time before they would be bundled out for another underwhelming total. The feeling was accentuated with Joe Root’s dismal prod outside the off stump and a period of 53 dot balls heading into the lunch. 

The streak of dots extended to 70 balls before Ben Stokes edged one past gully for a single. It received ironic cheers from the crowd as they rubbed it in.

It was not the ideal situation for a Bairstow who was still on naught. Only one Test fifty since last year, no red-ball cricket between September 2021 and the Boxing Day Test, no warm-up games on the tour. 

It took him his ninth ball to get off the mark and 19th to score his first boundary. By the end of the day, alongside Stokes, he instilled England with a rare fightback from despair, as the visitors saved the follow-on. He had his seventh Test hundred, adorned with eight fours and three sixes, off only 138 deliveries. 

“I am over the moon. It is the hardest one so far (this hundred) not only with the circumstances but to put the graft in”, said Bairstow after the day’s play.

What he now calls one of his toughest Test hundreds, the right-hander achieved it by bringing in a trait from his white-ball game - counter-attack. While he maintained a strike-rate of over 60 against most of the Aussie bowlers, he was particularly severe against Nathan Lyon, scoring 45 runs off his 43 deliveries. His false-shot percentage against Australia’s prime spinner was only 2.3. Against Mitchell Starc, the highest wicket-taker of the series, his strike-rate was 63.

Besides taking down two pillars of a relentless bowling attack, Bairstow also gulped the pain of a striking blow. On 60, he was hit by a rising Pat Cummins delivery on his thumb. It came right after Stokes' dismissal. With the anticipation that he might have broken his thumb, it was easy to start feeling bad again for England after a brief period of fightback. However, despite extreme pain, Bairstow carried on after a bit of strapping to his hand. 

“It takes quite a bit to get me off the park. It was a bit sore but given the circumstances, I made the decision to stay out there,” explained Bairstow. 

Built like a warrior with a barreled chest and broad shoulders, he showed every bit of his defiance and courage to forge one of the most memorable days of his Test career -  a format he has loved dearly but has struggled to crack like the England team in the past few years. In all honesty, Bairstow’s career graph in both formats has run parallel to that of England’s. 

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Fortunately, Bairstow found able support from Mark Wood, with whom he added 72 off as many balls for the seventh wicket, with Wood being the senior partner. Happy to slow down watching the lower-order bat in his element, Bairstow reached the final over of the day with one short of a memorable ton. He had Cummins to negotiate from around the stumps. 

“It was an annoying field. I haven’t seen a field like that before,” said the 32-year old about the nervous moments. Cummins dangled the carrot, bowling wide of the stumps expecting a false shot from Bairstow. But it was one of those days when the Yorkshireman couldn’t put a foot wrong. It is pretty evident in his overall false-shot percentage of only 12.8 in the innings. 

He found the gap square of the wicket to get to the triple figures in the bullish way he had batted all day. It was not the Steve Waugh moment where the home skipper reached the hundred off the last ball of the day. But it was special as Bairstow erupted into his trademark celebratory roar. In two days, the Sydney crowd has seen two comeback hundreds. 

For England, it has taken four Tests but they finally have a centurion in this series. They would hope that it brings back Jonny Bairstow the Test superstar they had envisaged five years ago. They need him more than ever now. 

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Australia vs EnglandEngland tour of Australia, 2021/22EnglandAustraliaJonny BairstowBen Stokes

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