Bairstow credits Lions' part
Jonny Bairstow has credited his experience playing with England Lions as one of the contributory factors in his impressive innings of 95 in the Lord's Test against South Africa.
Bairstow was dropped from the England Test side after the series against West Indies when Kemar Roach, in particular, appeared to highlight some deficiencies against the short ball. Recalled for this Test, due to the unavailability of Ravi Bopara and the dropping of Kevin Pietersen, Bairstow responded with an innings of courage and skill that rescued England from a precarious 54 for 4 and revived their hopes of securing the victory that would see them retain the No. 1 Test ranking.
Bairstow scored 139 for England Lions against Australia A last week, dealing confidently with an impressive pace attack that included Mitchell Johnson. As a result, Bairstow came into the Test believing he had the technique and temperament to deal with the barrage of short balls that he knew would come his way.
Lions games are not universally popular in English cricket, due to the scheduling of some games towards the end of the domestic season, causing counties that may be striving for promotion or to avoid relegation to be weakened. But Bairstow's words support the England team management's insistence that such matches play an important role in the development of international players.
"I was confident in the way I was playing coming off the back of the Lions game," Bairstow said. "Mitchell Johnson and Jackson Bird are world-class bowlers. It was really good to go out and test yourself against bowlers like that, and the two spinners as well were obviously a test on a turning Old Trafford pitch.
"I did perhaps go through a bit of a dry spell after the series against West Indies. When you get exploited in some sort of way, you go away and look at things. You can't just change via the click of a finger. It goes through practice, through stages. You're going to fail sometimes.
"But at the same time, there were no drastic changes that I made. You work on your strengths, and look at little things you can improve on. I went away and worked with Martyn Moxon and Graham Thorpe over the last couple of weeks and made some little improvements."
Bairstow admitted his runs in this Test had been the hardest he had ever scored and praised Ian Bell's calming influence in a fifth-wicket partnership of 124 that stabilised the England innings after a poor start.
"They're a world class attack," he said. "Playing out there in a Test against the No. 3 side in the world is never going to be easy. The likes of Steyn, Morkel, Philander, Kallis and Tahir are formidable bowlers. There isn't a single bowler in that attack that isn't world-class.
"Obviously it was a tough period when I came in, so I was happy to ride that. Ian Bell played fantastically well as well during that period and that partnership. When you walk to the crease and you're under the pump a little bit, it's something I quite enjoy. But Belly's experience and expertise was a very calming influence."
Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, was even moved to praise Bairstow's innings as "the best 95" he had seen and, despite falling just short of a maiden Test century, Bairstow insisted that the pleasure at his important contribution far outweighed the regret at narrowly missing out on the personal landmark.
"I was pleased with the way that I played," Bairstow said. "I was delighted to get 95. But yes, I am a little bit disappointed not to get to the 100. It's only five runs, but it would have been nice."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo