Bairstow's brilliance changes Yorkshire's day
Yorkshire 329 for 6 (Bairstow 102*, Bresnan 66*) v Durham
Jonny Bairstow is not yet a great batsman but he is capable of playing brilliant innings. He has the rare gift of being able to transform a cricket match, of taking rules of engagement that apply inflexibly to other players and disregarding them in a welter of magnificent strokes. "Youth is to all the glad season," wrote Thomas Carlyle, and Bairstow is a mere 25 years old. Who knows what this game might yet have in store for him?
Bairstow's gifts were on display in abundance on the first day of the match between Durham and Yorkshire at Chester-le-Street. Until he arrived at the wicket, the match between Division One's top two sides had been characterised by understandable caution and orthodoxy. On a slowish wicket and under cloudy skies in the morning session, Yorkshire's top-order batsmen had taken no risks at all. When Bairstow came to the wicket, Andrew Gale's side were 124 for 3 in the 54th over. Then Yorkshire's wicketkeeper-batsman hit his first ball for four and the whole day's cricket began to change.
Having made a very fine hundred against Hampshire at Headingley and an even better one against Middlesex, also on his home ground, Bairstow, whose attendance was not required at England's pre-Ashes training camp in Spain, now topped the lot, and this in one of his team's most important games of the season. He has a sense of occasion, too.
Three balls after arriving at the wicket, he watched Gale fend John Hastings to Paul Collingwood at slip, the Durham skipper making a one-handed acrobatic catch look absurdly simple. Bairstow then shared brief partnerships of 22 with Aaron Finch and 39 with Adil Rashid. Yet when Rashid was caught by Collingwood off Chris Rushworth, Yorkshire were 191 for 6 in the 68th over and Durham's bowlers could feel perfectly satisfied with their work.
It was three overs after tea when Tim Bresnan arrived at the middle. What happened over the next two hours or so will be cherished by the good number of Yorkshire supporters who made the journey to the North-East. On a pitch which remained tricky, Bairstow and Bresnan added 138 in an unbroken stand for the seventh wicket with Bresnan making an immensely valuable unbeaten 66 off 85 balls while Bairstow went from 34 to 102 not out, reaching his century off the final ball he faced in the day when he drove Collingwood to extra cover.
What was noticeable in that glorious evening session was the way in which Bairstow took virtually no risks. His drives, cuts and pulls were pure but his ability to seize on the even slightly loose ball is, on his day, as rare a talent as there is in the English game. Bowlers like Hastings and Jamie Harrison, who had bowled economically against Yorkshire's other batsmen were suddenly being milked for boundaries and on many of these occasions, they were doing little or nothing wrong.
Since returning from England's tour to the West Indies, Bairstow has now scored 519 County Championship runs at an average of 86. In eight innings he has passed fifty on six occasions. He is in some of the form of his still developing career. Trevor Bayliss is surely taking note and maybe wondering what to do about it. At least James Whitaker will be able to advise him. The national selector was in attendance to see Bairstow's innings and one would love to overhear their conversation.
In a way, it was almost unfair on some of Yorkshire's other batsmen that Bairstow should bat quite as brilliantly as he did on the first day of this game. Until he took Yorkshire's innings and shaped it differently, opener Alex Lees could feel quite pleased to have made 40, his highest score in ten innings; and Lees had added 56 for the first wicket with Will Rhodes before Rhodes was bowled for 24 by left-arm seamer Harrison, who was making his first appearance of the season.
Harrison was later to take the wicket of the in-form Jack Leaning, who was bowled for 28 runs carefully accumulated in two hours' concentrated effort. Indeed, the first four in Yorkshire's order had all done their best in difficult circumstances against accurate bowling. But when it is Bairstow's day, there is little bowling to him and spectators at this game may have left the ground feeling privileged to have seen him bat as he did.