BENGALURU: Before 2022 began, Jonny Bairstow had six Test hundreds to his name in 79 matches. Though he was acknowledged as a fine batsman, the general view was he had underperformed in the longer format. While he was going great guns in the ODIs, his Test record left a lot to be desired.
However, the tables completely turned as 2022 began. A batsman who had scored just six centuries in the first 79 Tests has thumped six tons in the last 8 matches. That’s a jaw-dropping transformation. In the last match at Edgbaston, which England needed to win to level the series, Bairstow upped his ante and smote two centuries in the match to seal a memorable victory for his team.
What is even more impressive is the strike rate at which he’s scoring the runs. Against India, Bairstow, along with Joe Root, made light of the 378-run chase by attaining the target in just 76.4 overs.
Recently, against New Zealand, he had walloped 136 off just 92 balls as England chased down 299 in only 50 overs at Trent Bridge. Bairstow also hammered an explosive 71 at Leeds as it took England only 54.2 overs to stroll to 296 in the fourth innings. Batting in the fourth innings is one of the hardest things for batsmen because of the wear and tear, the pitch cops during the first three innings. Hence, chasing anything more than 250 is invariably arduous.
But due to Bairstow’s barn-storming exploits, England are chasing huge totals in the fourth innings with astonishing ease. He certainly has become the most dangerous batsman in this format.
‘Suicide of the father’
As a child, Bairstow had to overcome a terrible tragedy which had befallen his family. His father David Bairstow, who had played 4 Tests and 21 ODIs for England, died by suicide in 1997 when he was barely an 8-year-old kid.
“With my dad gone, I made a resolution to myself. I would become the man of the house,” he writes in his autobiography. The fact that Bairstow put that tragedy aside and committed himself to take up cricket as a profession in itself is a testament to his courage.
Now that he has become one of the leading cricketers those clouds of despair are dispersed by the cheery sunshine of success.
On his Test debut, Bairstow was relentlessly peppered with bouncers by West Indies pacer Kemar Roach. One of the bumpers even hit him on the chest. He didn’t look comfortable against thunderbolts and questions were immediately raised about his technique. After an abysmal showing in the Ashes 2013-14 in Australia, he was axed from the team for almost 18 months.
Bairstow made a comeback in 2015 and cracked three Test tons in 2016 to cement his place in the team. He ironed out his problems against short-balls and learned to effectively play pulls and hooks.
The next few years were comme si comme sa for the dashing batsmen but his travails started once again in 2019. On numerous occasions, he was cleaned up by full-length inswingers. His balance at the crease was also skewered.
The gutsy cricketer once again went to the drawing board and analysed his recurring mistakes. Then he sweated it out in the nets and overhauled his overall game. Instead of being persistently anxious about his performance, he started to enjoy his game over. He also added more shots to his repertoire, cleared the cobwebs in his head and resolved to play positive cricket.
All the changes he has made in his technique and mindset are amply manifesting themselves in his game. At the age of 32, there is still plenty of cricket left in him. If he maintains his positive outlook and appetite for runs, the England Test team will benefit immensely in the years to come.