England v South Africa, 3rd Investec Test, Lord's, 3rd day August 18, 2012

Jonny earns his place in folklore

The 95 runs of epic character scored by Jonny Bairstow at Lord's were of immense importance to English cricket

Well, he failed, didn't he? A glorious failure, by five runs. Just five wretched, damned and out-of-reach runs. When the death rattle sounded, Michael Vaughan tore off his ear piece and marched out of the commentary box with the words "I've never been so disappointed at the fall of a wicket in my life". Quite so Michael. Mutual.

Like Ted Dexter's famous 70 against West Indies here in 1963, Jonny Bairstow's 95 will take its place in the folklore of a ground that continues to provide moments of irresistible theatre. Maybe not a hundred but still some innings, played against some attack, in perfect weather, at the ultimate place. Hurrah for Lord's, hurrah for Jonny B.

With the possible exception of the Australians here in 2005, I cannot think of a match in which spectators have been more glued to their seats. The quality of the cricket and the relevance of the result has emptied the bars. Note to ICC: if Test series have meaning, people will come.

Before play Bairstow was all the talk - will he, won't he? He captured the imagination on Friday with his courage every bit as much as his strokeplay. Bouncers flew and Jonny swayed: no sitting duck now, no Jonny-come-lately. This was Jonny in the moment and, once settled, Jonny of Yorkshire swatting the short-pitched stuff to the square leg boundary and clipping from his toes as if it were Saturday at Scarborough.

They were 95 runs of epic character, statements of authority and individuality. Many men can dazzle, few can dazzle when it matters. Those who do are set apart. The innings was of immense importance to English cricket, played at a time when national pride was at stake. The value of county cricket; the raison d'etre of the England Lions; the dispensability or otherwise of Kevin Pietersen; the series score; the ICC world rankings, all there for Bairstow to do something with, and how.

Confronted, driven by the tragedy of his father's suicide 14 years ago, there was sentiment involved too. David played four Test matches, top scoring on debut with 59 at The Oval in 1979. Enough of the Friday audience knew to ripple their applause for Jonny's 60th run.

Money was difficult but his mother, Janet, and friends found a way. Geoffrey - yes that Geoffrey - advised while sister, Rebecca, kept a wise eye on the cocky, committed and outrageously gifted brother. Football, rugby, cricket, the lot - Bairstow was a boy with the world at his twinkling toes. He knew it too, but in an engaging way. His journey was set, its destiny pre-ordained. It is the backstory of backstories.

And then came the short ball bowled by Kemar Roach at Trent Bridge. Bairstow stood frozen to the spot while camera's fired their machine guns of inquisition. It is cricket's most brutal question and judgment came from all corners: "The lad's got ability but he can't play the short ball". Nothing hurts a batsman like that.

Truth was, he had not seen much of short balls, not properly fast ones anyway. In three matches and three innings against West Indies, averaging 12.66, he reminded us that Test cricket was difficult. Dropped for the arrival of the South Africans, he went to school with Graeme Thorpe and Graham Gooch, rethinking stance and footwork - re-energising the foundation of batsmanship - before emerging with hundreds against Leicestershire and Australia A. Not bad.

And then, Jonny's jackpot moment. England closed the door on Pietersen and opened it wide and warm for Bairstow. He came to the crease with England reeling at 54 for 4. He left it with the total on 264 for 8 and parity within reach. A grim shot to get out by the way - playing across a fast, full, straight ball from Morne Morkel. He had 40 minutes in those nineties, the last 10 of them uncertainly so. Morkel bowled 14 consecutive deliveries at him and not a run came. A couple of swishes yes, but not a run.

Then the sparkling eyes lit up - "yippee, my moment". Groan. The maker's name was facing the Grand Stand when it should have been gun-barrel straight at the sightscreen. Father Time frowned. He has seen them all. But remember, Father, Bradman averaged 99.94. It is not a game of perfection, thank heaven.

As one, the crowd stood. A star was born. Bairstow moved two parts of three to the most famous pavilion on earth and then turned a while to acknowledge the applause. So much edge associated with the innings, so much tension. The progress had been heart-stopping, the end draining. Geoffrey Boycott called it "a real shame".

The five runs didn't matter, not in the great scheme of things. It mattered that he was out when England, the team and country, needed him in - a point Pietersen might consider.

Importantly, Bairstow had risen to the occasion, an occasion preceded by distemper but with heroism at its conclusion. Excellent fast bowling and an enormous, potentially overwhelming expectation had been overcome. Jonny Bairstow: Test match cricketer.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK