The Ashes

Published on December 15th, 2017 | by Sakshi Gupta

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Jonny Bairstow: Hard earned journey to maiden Ashes Ton

🕓 Reading time:5 minutes

As the Bairstows welcomed a new year in 1998, little did they know they were awaited of something worst. It was a usual chilly January morning; Christmas vacation had ended and it was time to hit the school again. An eight-year-old Jonny Bairstow held his younger sister Beckey’s hand, said goodbye to his dad David Bairtsow and walked out of the house. The kids did not have the slightest of the ideas that they were seeing their dad for the very last time. In the evening, Jonny’s mother, Janet who was undergoing a treatment for breast cancer then, picked the siblings from school and took them to Jonny’s football training at Leeds United.

They returned home to see David, a former England cricketer, Jonny and Beckey’s father and Janet’s husband, had hung himself from the staircase. The inquest into David’s death revealed that he had been suffering from depression and stress. Life had played the cruellest of games with the Bairstow family. Twenty years have passed now and the family is still clueless of what made David end his life; he left no note to be read and there was no clue that could have helped them solve the puzzle behind the death.

Apparently, David suffered a lot after retirement in 1990. The initial days away from cricket were harder and that was quite evident. All his life, he had spent at Yorkshire; it was where he belonged, Yorkshire established his identity and not once had he imagined his life outside Yorkshire in those 20 years in cricket. Post-retirement, he became a radio commentator but a few arguments leading up with the club’s management, David had to leave the job. Despite staying away from the club for eight years, David had not able to cut himself completely off those memories.

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David was the only child; his father had raised him all by himself as his wife had abandoned them when David was three. After David’s death, Jonny and his family were relatively in the same position and Janet has raised the brother-sister all by herself. It goes without saying that David had passed on his genes to his son too, which made him a strong boy who could deal with the pain and one fine day, come out of it and live a life ahead.

It was a lot of emotions for an eight-year-old to absorb, but Jonny did. The very next day, he and his sister went to school as scheduled and their mother, on her 42nd birthday, attended the hospital for a chemo session, all by herself. Life went on.

Jonny had a choice between rugby and cricket and the dearest son of David, chose the later, without a second thought. It took Jonny seven years to enter club cricket. He started young, playing for Yorkshire Under-15s and later representing England Under-17s. He went on to have a prolific season with Yorkshire’s second eleven and finally was given his First-Class debut. Eleven years had passed since his father’s death when Jonny made his debut for his father’s club, Yorkshire.

His first match was against Somerset where he scored 28 and remained unbeaten on 82 in the second innings. Although Yorkshire ended in the losing side, Jonny’s career was off to a start.

Just three years after his First-Class debut, Jonny was given his maiden Test call. The home series against West Indies was his career’s first series. However, with scores of 16, 0, 4 and 18 as he struggled against Kemar Roach, he was dropped. He was recalled to replace dropped Kevin Pietersen at Lord’s against South Africa, where he scored twin fifties. The textgate crisis that same series did not keep him in the team.

Jonny had then become the reserved guy on the team used as emergency replacements and not a permanent member as yet. He was then given the Mumbai Test in the place of Ian Bell following with two Ashes Tests in Australia replacing Matt Prior, who had flown home mid-series. Unfortunately, Jonny only returned home with technical issues and was thrown back to domestic circuit to find solutions. Yorkshire coach Jason Gillespie had banned any coach from approaching Jonny, as the batsman was asked to resolve the issue all by himself.

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Jonny cleared his head, rebuilt his batting, scored some 1000 championship runs and made his way back to the England Test side. He was inserted at the No. 5 position, the place where he was never comfortable batting at. In 2016 away series against South Africa, he had his mother and sister in the box, Ben Stokes on the other side and Bairstow himself was at the crease, on 99. All he would have to do was to get that one run and shout his traditional “Yesssss.”

It was a blend of anxiety and emotions; two days later was his father’s 18th death anniversary and just last year he had lost his maternal grandfather. He had batted for 31 innings now and had still not reached the three-digit score yet. He needed to get that one run, all the more now, for both, personal and professional reasons. There was a lot going on in his mind, yet he had sustained Morne Morkel all through the session. South Africa brought in Van Zyl and Jonny middled one to the backward point for four and the rest is history.

He roared out of delight, the punch in the air, the “yesssss” and a small emotional gaze at the sky, hoping his father and grandfather would be at a bar celebrating his maiden Test century somewhere in the parallel universe.

In the next one year, Jonny would become a vital member of the English Test side. His second and third Test centuries came against Sri Lanka where scoring 140 at Leeds and an unbeaten 167 at the Lord’s. The litmus Test was still yet to come. Now that Jonny had found the right form with the bat, it was the perfect time to leave his mark in Australia as well – that’s something his father never received an opportunity to do so. He never played a Test in Australia and if Jonny managed to notch-up a fine performance Ashes Down Under, he knew nobody would be as proud as his dad.

On Jonny’s insistence, England had not played Jonny up the order. Since he knew the art of batting with the tail, he was sent at No. 7. However, that did not allow Jonny to spend as much time at the crease as he should have. He ended with scores of 9, 42, 21 and 36 in the first two Ashes 2017-18 Tests. He had consumed a lot of balls in those innings and that cleared the fact that he had the capability to play longer innings, provided he was promoted up the order. Ahead of the Perth Test, Jonny was promoted to No. 6, where he had scored the unbeaten 167 knock and also averaged decent with 48.95 in 17 Tests.

Jonny’s third Test was 19 months old now. He got involved in a silly headbutt incident off the field with Australian Cameron Bancroft, an incident which the Aussies used to get under Jonny’s skin in Adelaide Test. Although his Test average in the last two years has been a shy of 50 but he needed a big knock to prove it. England were 0-2 Down and they desperately needed to score a bundle of runs to push Australia to an edge. Just like the first two Tests, England’s top batsmen were dismissed early in the innings. Mark Stoneman’s half-century was the highest score until David Malaan and Jonny came at the crease.

Malaan made his way to a maiden Test ton first followed by Jonny, who notched up his maiden Ashes Test ton. It took his four Ashes series and 20 Ashes innings to get there but all that mattered at the end was he did get there. Every century of Jonny has a story behind, the same one, he once again looked at the sky, looking for his dad for a moment. Showing he had the last laugh in the headbutt incident, Jonny cheekily banged his head his head against his England helmet three times after his century.

Clearly, this was Jonny’s favourite century. “There’s a huge amount of pride that comes with any hundred and playing for your country. But you want to look back at the archives when you are retired and say to your kids or grandkids, you made an Ashes hundred at the WACA, away from home,” Jonny signed off after his incredible knock came to an end at 119.

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About the Author

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More than a sport, sports persons have kept her engaged in work. She is a sports fanatic whose mantra in life is “do only what you enjoy". She tweets @sakshi2929.



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