Essays, reflections and more

A tale of two Yorkshire lads

The careers of two present-day England players have been noticeably intertwined since their days in youth cricket

Matthew Bremner

February 14, 2014

Comments: 8 | Text size: A | A

Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow put on 106 for the sixth wicket, Cricket Australia Invitational XI v England, Sydney, 3rd day, November 15, 2013
Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow: two of a northern kind © Getty Images
Enlarge
Related Links
Players/Officials: Jonny Bairstow | Joe Root
Teams: England | Yorkshire

I was loitering down by the nets at the Grange cricket ground on a June morning in 2008. I remember I was giving one of our batsmen wayward throwdowns and thinking anxiously about potential failure. I had pre-match nerves; those nerves that make it impossible to engage in an earnest conversation, throw the ball properly in the warm-up, or think about anything bar the first ball sailing down the leg side from a too-cocked wrist and a collapsing action - which "causes that unnaturally slingy action", I could hear my coach saying.

We, Scotland U-19s, were to play the Yorkshire academy that day. It was the highest-level fixture that most of us, certainly I, had played in up until that point, and as a consequence we all felt ourselves nervous and preoccupied.

"Matty, look!" I remember my team-mate shouting, "Here they come, the opposition lads."

And indeed they had: swaggering into the grounds with their kit bags and their confidence - both bigger than their fledging careers might have then justified - they had that air of aloofness, but not necessarily of condescending, which a more experienced team usually has over diminutive opposition. In comparison to my four years of cricket on the gurgling slurp of sodden Scottish outfields, these immaculately track-suited youths, six new stickered bats to each man, made me feel a little agricultural and messy.

Perhaps 20 minutes later, two Yorkshire players who had broken off from the main squadron came strutting towards the nets where some of us were still warming-up. One was tall and rangy, with dark brown long hair. He was wearing a cap and a sneer. The other was significantly shorter, almost lost in his tracksuit, with short blond hair. He wore braces and a metallic Milkybar kid grin.

Initially they commenced with some lazy batting drills and talked loudly so we might hear them. And indeed, it wasn't long before they were interrupted by a few of the more confident and experienced members of our team.

The taller one introduced himself as Chris Allinson and the shorter one just said that his name was Joe. I do remember finding it strange at the time that one player should introduce himself thoroughly and the other not. Should I have heard of Chris Allinson? Obviously I should have no idea who "Joe" was.

A reel of anecdotes and names was spun off unnaturally early into the conversation:

"No, Sajid Mahmood isn't that fast!"

"Yeah, I played Andrew Flintoff in a 2nd XI game"

"Yeah, I played for the England youth teams."

When he had finished this barrage of self-aggrandising narratives, Allinson turned to the sheepish, peachy-skinned youth at his side and commenced with another salvo of superlatives. Joe had remained quiet - a series of blushing grins and non-committal shrugs standing in for his words - and did so even when Allinson continued chronicling his glories.

We were told Joe was the next best thing, "a verified run machine" and sure to play for England in the near future. He was sure to crack out another hundred against "you boys". Joe still said nothing; he simply motioned to the guffawing Allinson that they should perhaps join the rest of the team for the warm-up.

After they had made their way to the other side of the ground, I think we were all left feeling a number of things. Some were sceptical about the boys' proclamations, some were intimidated. I just felt intrigued by the facility of this "Joe" to shrug off such aggrandising accolades. Perhaps he just knew he was capable of doing what was said about him, and that he needed no exterior arrogance to compensate for the internal insecurity that most of us feel when placed in positions of authority.

****

We were sat on the first level of the tall, spindly Grange Pavilion, watching and talking about the game. Yorkshire had won the toss and had sent us into bat. Our openers where being subjected to some lively short-pitched bowling from the messy elasticity of their opening bowler, Michael Chadwick.

"See that guy over there, yeah, he's the son of that England wicketkeeper who committed suicide. I think his name's Bairstow," someone told me.

"He's meant to be really good, though, he's played for the England youth teams," he added in what seemed a truly crass and irritating non-sequitur.

As I looked on I didn't know what I was supposed to see: a super-talented, melancholic glove-man catching and then collapsing in front of my eyes? How many times on different cricket fields by different players on different teams has that sentence been uttered; said over and over again behind Jonny Bairstow's back, and thought over and over again in his presence?

Indeed, that's the problem with these gossipy narratives: they occlude one's ability to watch anyone play by making the reality seem somehow insubstantial. And so I would be lying if I were to be overly aggrandising or hyper-critical of the display I witnessed. What I saw was a wicketkeeper who caught the balls he was supposed to and didn't drop the balls he wasn't. Perhaps at times he appeared a little stiff and taut behind the stumps, and he certainly wasn't predisposed to the garrulousness and inanity of the textbook keeper. Apart from that he just seemed good at what he was doing.

****

There is nothing quite as vindicating of praise as pulling the first ball of your innings, and indeed of the innings, for six. Standing at square leg, watching the ball sail 20 metres over my head, I can admit to swallowing a few cartoonish gulps of fear as I imagined what the next over, my over, might entail.

 
 
I got him to play and miss, I even got him to nod his head in appreciation of a few of my deliveries, but never did he make me feel convinced enough of my work that these near-misses amounted to a narrative culminating in his end
 

However, apart from that momentous swipe early on in the innings, there were no other acts of flashiness. Indeed, I have never known someone to score runs so insidiously - like a batter in baseball running for base just before the pitcher releases the ball. He never looked in trouble throughout his innings, but neither did he make it look as if he was finding it particularly easy. Blocks brought ones and twos, whilst nudges brought fours, and there were no more sixes that I can remember. I bowled the majority of my overs to him that day and at no point did I feel like I was bowling to the future England player Allinson had told us of, for he had none of that dominating flamboyance that one, whether rightly or not, equates with greatness.

Nonetheless, at no point did I feel like I was going to get him out. I got him to play and miss, I even got him to nod his head in appreciation of a few of my deliveries, but never did he make me feel convinced enough of my work that these near-misses amounted to a narrative culminating in his end. In a sense his total domination was passive, deceptive even, in that he always suggested the experiencing of a difficulty that he was not, in fact, experiencing. He relaxed us by seemingly negating his own threat, and in our resulting relaxation he took to scoring his runs. Indeed, true to Allison's word, "Joe" verified his run-machine moniker and scored 122 not out against "us boys".

Bairstow, on the other hand, seemed somehow more janitor-like in his no-nonsense way of clearing the mess other players made. He had come to the crease after a few quick wickets, and along with "Joe" put on a partnership of 88 runs. From his first forward-defensive against the spinner, he seemed resolute, his bat as wide as a barn door. His shape at the crease was boxy - his defence aggressive, his drives angular and his hands hard. He would whip the ball from outside off stump along the ground, through midwicket, with minimal effort, and he seemed capable of attacking almost all of the good balls we bowled.

He ran determinedly between the wickets - head down, shoulders hunched and legs pumping - as if he were untiring in his desire to finish the game. He seemed to function like an industrial machine; turning, churning, and producing results - the faster the better.

We played well that day and did a lot to improve our reputation just south of the border. However, put simply, we weren't good enough. Together the combination of stealthy run-scoring and engineered strokeplay was a winning one. Though Bairstow was out caught 42 runs short of the total, "Joe" carried his bat to the finish and Yorkshire ended up beating us by six wickets.

****

The next I heard of them was when they made their Test debuts within a year of each other in 2012: Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, England players.

Of course, it would be naïve of me to conjecture on their future from the basis of having played them in a youth game almost six years ago, and so I will not do so. The most important and interesting aspect of this story is that it provides an early marker for two careers that thus far have matched each other note for note, and for two players who have remained inseparable in achievement and failure.

Both were brought up in the youth system at Yorkshire and have played together for most of their youth careers. They continue to play for Yorkshire, where they remain central to its culture. In Test cricket, they debuted in the same year. They remain within one Test cap of each other - Bairstow has played 14 matches for England, whilst Root has played 15 - and now, both find themselves uncertain of selection.

In the near future, serious questions will be asked in the ECB's offices, as they are being now in pubs throughout the country: is Bairstow good enough to be selected for England purely as a batsman? Is he capable as a wicketkeeper? Where do England see Root fitting in: should he open, bat at 3, 6, or not at all? The answers to these questions, and whether this career symmetry will last, are better answered by the course of time than by a few exploratory paragraphs. For now, let the story be more valuable than the speculation.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (February 16, 2014, 11:33 GMT)

showing off is integral part of youth no matter its sports or any other area. Nice ARTICLE. Joe Root will be a big name in international cricket.while J.B will be a good player at best

Posted by   on (February 15, 2014, 10:14 GMT)

As a Yorkshireman I have no problem at all with the thought of both of them being left out by England. If they are, we will win the County Championship by a mile. Last season we lost it narrowly to Durham despite missing Root, Bairstow and Bresnan most of the summer. Durham had no call-ups, this year they will miss Stokes.

As an England supporter, it would be ridiculous to drop Root who is the most talented batsman of his generation. However, they do need to stop messing him about; in his 15 tests he has batted everywhere from 2 to 7. Give him a position, let him settle and the runs will flow.

Bairstow is also a talent, but I think he does need a break to iron out some technical flaws. He will return, but whether as a batsman or keeper-batsman remains to be seen

Posted by CodandChips on (February 15, 2014, 7:19 GMT)

@suredes Your being very harsh. Dont forget after CT13 Root was averaging 50 in ODIs and just under that in tests. Also in his first T20I innings he scored 90 not out. He's only struggling now because he's played almost non-stop since CLT202012. He needs a rest.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2014, 3:25 GMT)

Root beings in a playpen not an England shirt! He's got evaporated talent and is playing on borrowed time. Now that Godfather Vaughan, Flower, and Boycott have stopped backing him, we can finally see the return of Nick Compton, grandson of the great Denis Compton return to the England side.

Posted by Suredes on (February 14, 2014, 22:33 GMT)

Root is highly over rated. He should not playing T20 or 50 ov games. I saw in the last match how he tried to hit a six, boy has got no power at all. Go back to your county play for few years more

Posted by TripleCenturian on (February 14, 2014, 22:18 GMT)

Just as well Chris Allinson gave up with Yorkshire a couple of years back or we could have had another England player in the top order.

Talented player before I suspect he saw the road to first team cricket blocked by Root, Lyth and Lees and went back to pro in the NYSD leagues.

The next cab on the rank after Lees is already starting his engine with young Tattersall opening for the under 19s curren Ntlworld.

Posted by CodandChips on (February 14, 2014, 17:55 GMT)

Great piece. Good read.

The partnership between the 2 at Headingly was great.

Both are struggling atm. Bairstow isn't quite ready yet imo, and Root's rest is long overdue.

Good luck to them both though.

Posted by Prodger on (February 14, 2014, 14:51 GMT)

Well observed piece replete with excellent images, particularly enjoyed 'he was wearing a cap and a sneer', I think we've all come across those characters.

Comments have now been closed for this article

FeedbackTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print

    In Larwood country

Diary: Our correspondent makes his way from Trent Bridge to Nuncargate to find out more about one of England's most fearsome fast bowlers. By Sidharth Monga

    Pitching it up

How a medical charity convinced the MCC and the Swedes to help spread the message of cricket among kids in Afghanistan

    'I'd run to watch if Gower was playing'

Part six: Martin Crowe on David Gower's footwork and the steely determination beneath his elegance

    A tale of two SSC Tests

In 1993 and 2006, South Africa's bowlers had vastly different results in Colombo. Brett Schultz and Makhaya Ntini look back

The value of a cricketer's brand

Michael Jeh: Andrew Strauss will recover from the indiscreet remark about Kevin Pietersen, but his image won't be entirely as it was

News | Features Last 7 days

Defensive captains' extended test

The duration of the Test series will allow Alastair Cook and MS Dhoni to reassess the strategies, or provide enough time to get thoroughly exposed

India look for their Indian summer

Billboards are calling the series England's Indian Summer, but it is India who are looking for that period of warmth, redemption after the last whitewash, for they have seen how bleak the winter that can follow is

India's bowling leader conundrum

The present Indian bowling line-up will tackle its first five-Test series without the proven guidance of Zaheer Khan, their bowling captain. India had unravelled without him in 2011. Will they do better this time around?

Bevan's best, and a combined Indo-Pak team

A look back at five high-profile exhibition matches

Five key head-to-heads

From two embattled captains to the challenge for India's openers against the new ball, ESPNcricinfo picks five contests that could determine the series

News | Features Last 7 days

    Defensive captains' extended test (118)

    The duration of the Test series will allow Alastair Cook and MS Dhoni to reassess the strategies, or provide enough time to get thoroughly exposed

    India look for their Indian summer (87)

    Billboards are calling the series England's Indian Summer, but it is India who are looking for that period of warmth, redemption after the last whitewash, for they have seen how bleak the winter that can follow is

    India's bowling leader conundrum (44)

    The present Indian bowling line-up will tackle its first five-Test series without the proven guidance of Zaheer Khan, their bowling captain. India had unravelled without him in 2011. Will they do better this time around?

    What spinners should know about bowling in England (35)

    Bide your time, put your body behind each delivery, and play with the batsman's mind

    Five key head-to-heads (33)

    From two embattled captains to the challenge for India's openers against the new ball, ESPNcricinfo picks five contests that could determine the series