Just over 16 months ago, David Warner and Jonny Bairstow were in the cauldron of an Ashes battle. During the first Test at the Gabba, the stump mic picked up Warner telling Bairstow "you shouldn't headbutt our mates" in response to Bairstow's head contact with Cameron Bancroft at a pub in Perth. This verbal volley riled Bairstow up and he was dismissed soon after while attempting an uppercut. In the third Test at Perth, Bairstow celebrated reaching his century by headbutting his helmet.
Now in 2019, in another Ashes year, Bairstow walks out to open with Warner. What do they do? They break IPL records, by putting together three successive century stands.
Against Kolkata Knight Riders at Eden Gardens, they added 118 in 12.5 overs with Warner making a bruising 53-ball 85. Bairstow played second fiddle with a 35-ball 39. In the next game, the duo went on to add 110 in just 9.4 overs against Rajasthan Royals at Hyderabad to orchestrate a 199-run chase - the highest successful chase for Sunrisers in the IPL.
Once again Warner led the way with a 37-ball 69, but this time Bairstow too struck at a strike rate of 160, scoring 45 off 28. At one point during their stand, Warner had faced 18 balls with Bairstow being on strike for just three balls, and then when the ball count for Warner was 27, Bairstow's was still seven. In both games, Warner took first strike.
"Me and Jonny have partnered quite well since Kolkata," Warner would say after the game. "There have been a few hiccups with him trying to get off the mark, I have been hogging the strike a little bit."
Their stand paved the way for Sunrisers' victory after they had started with a loss against Knight Riders. Until then it was Warner who hogged the limelight by scoring runs like he was never away from cricket. One wondered if he had hired Shane Warne's scriptwriter.
Until then Bairstow was to Warner what Robin is to Batman. However, it wasn't to be the case for long. On Sunday, Virat Kohli tossed the ball to Moeen Ali after winning the toss. It's not like Warner has any weakness against offspin. On the contrary, no fingerspinner (except Sunil Narine, who isn't a traditional offspinner) has dismissed him in the Powerplay in the IPL since 2011.
Still, perhaps to be on the safer side, Bairstow took first strike, and swiped the second ball of the over for four. Moeen ended up conceding 14. In the next over, Warner lofted Umesh Yadav's first ball over long-on for a six. The pair took off once again as Sunrisers walloped to 59 in the Powerplay. After eight overs, both batsmen were neck to neck, Warner on 35 off 23 and Bairstow 36 off 25.
In his next eight balls, Bairstow struck three sixes and two fours and raced to 67 off 34 at the halfway stage. It's not often that Warner is the mellower of the two batsmen in a century stand. Though he was striking at a healthy 146, it paled in comparison to Bairstow's 197. The two added 185, the highest opening stand in the IPL. En route Bairstow brought up his hundred off 52 balls, resulting in Warner embracing him in a hug. In the final over of the innings, Warner too reached the landmark, taking just two balls more than his partner.
After Sunrisers' innings, it was Bairstow who handed Warner the Orange Cap for becoming the leading run-scorer of the season. When Kevin Pietersen interviewed the duo, Warner - still catching his breath - didn't forget to praise Bairstow's knock, giving a pat on the latter's shoulder. "Twelve months have done me well," Warner said. "I am [feeling] nice and refreshed, but what a terrific innings by Jonny. Fantastic partnership by both of us there."
Bairstow was quick to return the favour. "Fantastic to bat in the middle with him [Warner]," he said. "He is a fantastic player and has done [well] for a long, long time. That's why he has got the Orange Cap."
The understanding between the unlikely pair was on display throughout the innings. While Bairstow scored 90 of his 114 runs in boundaries, he ran ten twos and 20 singles for his partner as Warner exploited the long square boundaries by consistently nudging the ball in the gaps.
With the World Cup just two months away, and the Ashes to follow soon after, these two would once again be competing against each other. But for now, they are busy pushing each other, helping each other out, and enjoying each other's success as if it's their own. And to borrow from the movie Casablanca, who knows it might prove to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.