England v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Headingley, 2nd day May 20, 2016

The local lad who can now take on the world

This Headingley pitch has not made batting a simple task, but Jonny Bairstow played like a man in the form of his life with the stirring support of his home crowd

It is doubtful that even the most partisan Sri Lankan supporter begrudged Jonny Bairstow his moment of celebration upon reaching a Test century at Headingley.

They will know what he and his family have been through. They will know that this was not only his home ground, but the home ground of his father. They will have seen him point to his mother in the crowd as he reached his century and they will, for a while at least, have celebrated with them. Many things are more important than the result of cricket matches and you didn't have to be a Yorkshireman - or even an Englishman - to appreciate this was a special moment.

Bairstow, and his family, have endured a great deal to earn it. The standing ovation afforded him was tribute not just to some fine batting, but for the resilience of those around him and in appreciation and fond recognition of the contribution of his father. This was a local lad coming good and the local people were, quite rightly, damn proud of him.

But this was significant beyond the personal: it also cemented Bairstow's position in the England team. As a batsman.

Let us forget the keeping for a minute. Over the last couple of years, Bairstow has developed into a player of rare dominance in country cricket. He averaged 92.33 in the 2015 County Championship and, before this game, had plundered 246 against Hampshire and 198 against Surrey on this ground this season. In the second of those innings, he outshone Joe Root for a while and very, very few people do that these days. Even if he never kept again, he would be demanding England selection.

To have come in with his side in trouble and scored a century is one thing. To have done so on a pitch on which only one other man in the match has so far reached 35 is another. And to have done it as if he were batting on a shirtfront is reflective of the confidence with which he now plays.

Murderous against the short ball - his late cut is a thing of beauty, which perhaps explains why Sri Lanka appeared to feed it for a while - he is also very strong through extra cover (50 of his runs came in front of square on the off side) and, through playing straighter than was once the case, rarely misses out should the bowler stray on to his pads. So fast is his running between the wickets that, even when the boundary opportunities are cut off, it is all but impossible to dry-up his run scoring. He earned the overthrows that brought up his century by continually putting the fielders under pressure.

While he enjoyed a little fortune - he was badly dropped on 70 and flirted outside off stump a few times - it was no more than he deserved for the selfless way he approached the innings. Indeed, this was the sort of busy innings that Matt Prior, at his best, used to provide. It was probably fitting that Bairstow became the first England keeper to score a century in a home Test since Prior in 2011. He will play on many easier surfaces than this.

Jonny Bairstow savours a hundred on his home ground © Getty Images

Those who know Bairstow from Yorkshire suggest he has matured greatly in recent times. Where once he could appear somewhat defensive - or even abrasive - he now appears more resolved to enjoy his career without worrying about baggage or expectations. A change of agent seems to have encouraged this development and, where once he was - understandably - reluctant to open up either with colleagues or the media, he has found in recent times that, when he has done so, he has found only support and sympathy. As a consequence, it is said he is a more relaxed man, happier in his own skin.

So impressive was Bairstow here - and it is worth remembering it is only three Tests since he scored his maiden Test century - that there may well be calls for him to bat at No. 5. The argument for this is it might allow him extra time to build his innings and provide England the option of bringing in another player at No. 7. Some argue for a recall for Jos Buttler, who probably remains the more gifted keeper, though it could equally provide an opportunity to bring in a spinner such as Adil Rashid.

Whether Buttler is significantly more reliable with the gloves is debatable, though. He was dropped for a reason and, until he has played enough red ball cricket to suggest he has improved, it would be inconsistent to recall him. Ben Foakes, brilliant as a keeper but a work in progress as a batsman, might be another long-term option, but England have damaged keepers by picking them too early in the past. Foakes is best served continuing to learn his trade with Surrey.

But we already knew that Bairstow could bat. Perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, it is more relevant that he also enjoyed an excellent day with the gloves. While none of the five catches he claimed were sensational, he made a couple of them appear a good deal easier than he might have done in the past. With his footwork and concentration improved, he moved smartly both down the leg-side to dismiss Shaminda Eranga and towards first slip - an area that troubled him in South Africa - to claim a couple of outside edges.

He is not, by any means, the finished article as a keeper but he is working hard and has clearly made progress. It was telling that, in a County Championship match against Nottinghamshire a couple of weeks ago, he generally kept better than Chris Read. There is little higher praise than that.

It is too early to say England have found their Prior replacement - keeping is, after all, about consistency and he was not required to keep to spin bowling here - but Bairstow is heading in the right direction and well on the way to proving those of us who doubted his keeping wrong.

His game appears well-suited to No. 7, too. It allows him recovery time after keeping, protects him a little from the bowlers at their freshest and the ball at its hardest and provides England with a daunting-looking batting line-up. He has the ability to both push-on or rebuild as required and, blessed with an extra gear that should have earned him more limited-overs caps already, he has the game to thrash out if he is left with the tailenders.

It would be wrong to draw too many conclusions from the first two days of the Test summer. But with Hales and Bairstow providing evidence that they are developing into the players required to fill two of the positions about which there was some doubt in this team, it has been a highly encouraging start for England.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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