“When Bairstow attacked, Woakes attacked. When Bairstow left, Curran took over. But Bairstow’s quality was evident in the whole England innings from the moment he walked out”
“As long as I’m in the side, I don’t care.”
Johnny Bairstow’s answer in an interview on GQ Magazine to what position he would like to bat in Tests shows his unwavering passion for the country. A wicket-keeper batsman who jostled into the side ahead of some fine keepers in the County circuit, Bairstow could easily pass off as the Ultimate Boxing Champion.
He is, however, anything but that. But when one sees him in the squad inspite of the presence of the insanely talented Jos Buttler, one can’t help but admire Bairstow’s spirit.
An average of 39.24 isn’t exactly jaw-dropping by any stretch of the imagination. But in a side having Alastair Cook and Joe Root, you need something special to stand out. Stokes has it, Buttler has it, Malan and Ali don’t have it and hence aren’t regulars in the side.
So what exactly is Bairstow’s quality? In plain, simple, layman terms, Bairstow is a firefighter, one who salvages the side from a precarious situation, one who douses fire with a water hose fired at full force. He is a batsman first and a wicket-keeper next. Test purists might scoff at the very idea of playing a keeper for his batting prowess, but truth be told, Bairstow would walk into this Test side. He would walk into most Test sides of today because he has that quality, a quality to stand out and make his presence felt.
At Edgbaston last week, it came to public view in a counter-attacking knock that took the sting out of India’s bowling. Till Bairstow joined Root at the crease, the England innings was going nowhere, Root was going nowhere. The Yorkshire boy stole the limelight from under Root’s nose in a spectacular knock which would hardly gain attention for it failed to eclipse that elusive three-figure mark.
At Lord’s, England were once again in trouble at 77/3 when Bairstow strolled out to the middle. He watched as Root and Buttler fell in quick succession but found an able ally in Chris Woakes. The thing with Bairstow is when he has stable company, he thrives. Since his debut, Bairstow has been involved in quite a few memorable partnerships in Test cricket, most notably a sensational 399 run association with Ben Stokes at Cape Town two years back.
If that was mighty impressive, the stand with Woakes was a rather pleasant one
More so considering that India made just 107 in their first innings. True the rain had relented and the pitch had eased under the sun. But in defence and attack, Bairstow was much assured. Against the spinners, he was either fully forward or fully back.
— The Cricket Prof. (@CricProf) August 11, 2018
This enables him to counter any turn from the surface and also put the spinners off their channels. He completed it by scoring runs all around the wicket. He scored pretty evenly either side of the wicket till he reached his half-century and used the assuredness in footwork to push India’s pace bowlers into a corner.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to state that Woakes flourished from the confidence oozed by Johnny Bairstow. In the same GQ Magazine interview, the Yorkshire man describes his tough journey to the top – “It’s not been like that all the way through. There have been plenty of bad times that I’ve gone through, like you would in any career. I think it’s something you learn over a period of time; you learn to be more comfortable within yourself, appreciative of what you’ve got and what you haven’t, you realise the talents you have and what you can do and you take on the chin the things that you have to. It’s part and parcel of growing up.”
For now, Bairstow has taken stuff on the chin and moved forward with renewed vigour. That kind of attitude has rubbed off on his mates. Woakes yesterday was a picture of stunning composure and temperament. The duo nearly put on a double-century stand and put England firmly in the driving seat.
When Bairstow attacked, Woakes attacked. When Bairstow left, Curran took over. But Bairstow’s quality was evident in the whole England innings from the moment he walked out. Root and Cook are still the lynchpins of England’s batting but without Bairstow, it isn’t complete now. From being in the shadows of Root to that of Stokes and then Buttler, Bairstow has carved a path for himself. Today, England need Bairstow more than Bairstow need England. That ‘as long as I am there in the side, I don’t care’ comment now seems rather distant. England might need to modify it to ‘if you aren’t there, we care’.