England must learn lesson from Jonny Bairstow as Renaissance man thrives on clarity

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Onny Bairstow’s century in Antigua saved England from a first day of ignominy and should mark the dawn of the fourth phase in the career of one of their great Renaissance men.

Bairstow has worn many hats for England. A one-day opener, in test cricket, he beat everywhere from the first drop to No. 7, was wicketkeeper, tight receiver and boundary jumper. In 2012-13 he was a promising player at the end of a great era.

County races earned him a permanent recall in 2015 and he remained in England’s top team – normally as a keeper – until 2019. Since then he’s been feeding on crumbs: No.3 specialist in Asia, returned to the middle order last summer, abandoned then recalled to the Ashes.

Never, however, was Bairstow the leader or the adult in the room. Even though he made it to the oldest quartile on the team, he was treated with kid gloves. On this tour, with James Anderson and Stuart Broad absent, that changed.

Having made his debut ten years ago, he is the team’s longest-serving Test cricketer. Bairstow has been given the responsibility and his place in the team is clear. He says he “appreciates” his seniority, and responds with performance.

In his marvelous hundred here, and a similar and courageous effort in Sydney in January, Bairstow emerged as the oldest man. From 36 in four in Sydney, it made England’s only century from the ashes, a major reason which was the only game they did not lose.

This time he came in at 48 for four and did comparable lifesaving work. He was cautious at first, playing the ball late in his 67 stand with Ben Stokes, then came attacking intent – ​​including seven fours on 10 balls – for 99 with Ben Foakes, who also played magnificently.

Later, against a lively new ball, he consolidated in an unbroken 54 with Woakes. They will look to build towards 300 – a figure that hinted at England in 10 Ashes efforts – and beyond today.

In his first two games of 2022, Bairstow recalled how good a Test cricketer he can be – a hitter adaptable enough to score centuries in six different countries across all five Test continents; a batter voracious enough to score 1,470 runs in 2016, while guarding the wicket.

There have been many theories as to why Bairstow did not always reach these heights. Certainly, it is not irreproachable. Technical adjustments, implemented from 2018, which allowed him access to offside by becoming one of the best openers for white balls in the world led him to be played too often. And perhaps his obsession with keeping the wicket was also detrimental.


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