England v Australia, 2nd Investec Test, Lord's, 1st day July 18, 2013

A priceless inch for Bairstow

While it was galling for Jonny Bairstow to fall to a Steve Smith full toss, his innings had looked to have ended much earlier but Peter Siddle's overstepping have him a crucial second chance
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It is remarkable how one moment of fortune can shape a career. A life, even.

Consider Nasser Hussain. He was recalled for his first Test in almost three years against India at Edgbaston in June 1996 knowing that another failure could prove fatal to his international aspirations. Those were the days long before the phrase 'continuity of selection' had become familiar in England cricket.

So when Hussain gloved one down the leg side early in his comeback innings, he must have feared the worst. Fortunately for him, though, umpire Darrell Hair, took a different view and Hussain survived. He went on to score his first Test century and cemented his place in the Test side for much of the next decade.

It is no exaggeration to suggest that, without that error from Hair, Hussain may never have become England captain and, as a consequence, might never have become part of the Sky commentary team. He might, even now, be stacking shelves in Tesco.

May Jonny Bairstow have been blessed in similar fashion at Lord's? Bairstow had 21 when, his balance unsteady and his focus not on the ball but on the direction he intended the ball to travel, was beaten by one that may have come back into him a fraction from Peter Siddle and was, for the sixth time in a Test career of 14 completed innings, bowled.

Except it turned out to be a no-ball. By the smallest margin possible it turned out to be a no-ball. And Bairstow was reprieved. He went on to register only his second half-century in his last 10 Test innings and add 144 with Ian Bell. In terms of both his career and the match, this was a crucial innings from Bairstow.

It is worth speculating on what may have happened had Siddle's front foot been a couple of millimetres further back. Bairstow would have been out bowled for the fourth time in five innings (to follow twice against in the warm-up against Essex and once at Trent Bridge) and questions about his form and technique would have grown.

So, too, would questions about the suitability of Joe Root to open the batting. Root, having now opened five times with Alastair Cook (three times in Tests and twice against Essex), has yet to make a 50 and, had both he and Bairstow failed here, there would have been calls to allow him to continue his development away from the new ball and at the expense of Bairstow.

That may have had consequences for Nick Compton, too. While the suspicion lingers that the England selectors have reached a verdict on Compton that bodes ill for his international future, there would have been a gathering case for his recall, possibly as a relatively short-term solution, to allow Root to return to a less pressured middle-order spot and provide the new-ball blunting role that England have yet to convincingly display in the series to date.

None of this means the selectors would have changed tactics - they surely would not have done so soon after adopting a new approach - if Bairstow had failed. But the pressure would have grown, the vultures would have gathered and the chances of succeeding may well have diminished.

This innings does not confirm Bairstow's arrival as a Test player. This is, at this stage of the game at least, an unusually flat pitch, his technical issues remain and his failure to go on and convert his start into a match-defining score was regrettable.

But it will help. It will buy him time, not just from the selectors but from the media, and it will give him renewed confidence. It was a significant step in the right direction.

This was still very much Australia's day. While a couple of England batsmen, not least Bell and Kevin Pietersen, could console themselves with the thought that they had received good deliveries, a couple of the others, not least Bairstow and Jonathan Trott, will reflect with bitter disappointment on the part they played in their own downfall.

On a glorious wicket for batting and against a strong seam attack, but one lacking much variety, they had an excellent opportunity to post a commanding total. But losing three wickets for 12 runs against a part-time leg-spinner who had, before today, all but given up bowling was weak. Anything under 450 in the first innings might be considered a wasted opportunity.

Trott, timing the ball sweetly, is clearly in sublime form. But his failure to cash-in on his good starts will frustrate him as much as it is his side. He has now been dismissed for scores of between 27 and 76 in 10 of his last 12 Test innings with a propensity to give it away after doing all the hard work becoming as regular a feature of his batting as it is unwelcome.

There was more encouraging news in the sustained contribution of Bell. He will face tougher attacks in tougher conditions but, as was the case at Trent Bridge, he came to the crease with his side in trouble in an atmosphere as intense as he will face in a home Test. His almost faultless innings - he reached his 50 with a slice that was not far from point - contained solid defence, no outward sign of pressure and, as he became more established, a succession of gorgeous strokes that spoke of a gift for timing granted to very few.

He is now, along with Hobbs, Hammond and Chris Broad, one of only four England players to have scored centuries in three successive Ashes Tests. His journey has encompassed in a few detours and taken a little longer than expected to reach its destination, but he has now become the player his ability always threatened to make him.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ARad on July 19, 2013, 15:22 GMT

    Bairstow out, Compton in and Taylor (whose batting looks ugly but he has been repeatedly succeeding against touring teams and/or A teams which for me suggests a better chance of success than routine county scores against weaker oppositions) should be the understudy. Bairstow must go back to first class cricket and tighten his technique further before he is allowed back. Otherwise, he is a walking wicket.

  • cozens on July 19, 2013, 9:31 GMT

    I was worried about Root as opener. He certianly has huge potential, but I wonder if its too soon for him. On the flip side though. what a great experiance. Give him the whole series, and see where he is at the end. I recall Bell in 2005 looking very much out of his depth, but we can all see what a quality player he has become.

  • MarkTaffin on July 19, 2013, 8:29 GMT

    I think while we all accept Root is by trade a 'real' opener - and have had rammed down our throats by various sections of the media that he was the second coming of Gordon Greenidge - it's just that on the evidence so far, at TEST level he doesn't technically look like an opener.

  • milepost on July 19, 2013, 8:03 GMT

    But Vinay Monty can't get a game for his county side at the moment. England have no need for 2 spinners. I think keeping Root and Bairstow in is good from the Aussie perspective. I do however, think that keeping KP, Prior and Cook quiet for an entire series is unlikely so with the good performances of Trott and Bell England are due for a big score somewhere. Australia have to win the series which means winning 3 games is the only way to get over the line for sure. A very tough ask but they are well positioned in this game and there is plenty of cricket left. Let's see Australia's first innings to gauge how the teams match up.

  • ben.p. on July 19, 2013, 7:57 GMT

    No wonder Nasser Hussain was always a declared 'non-walker'. He owed his career to it. Nevertheless, he will remain in the common memory as having had, shall we say, a less than straightforward reputation for honesty - please don't refer to 'cheating', as the modern media simply won't let you, old boy - with others of his generation, such as Paul Collingwood. They have thereby forfeited any claim they may have had to be included among the game's greats. By the way, ask Nick Compton about his experience of 'continuity of selection'. Much as I want England to win, and much as I wish the young man well, I am relishing the embarrassment that Joe Root's failure as an opener will undoubtedly be causing the selectors.

  • jackthelad on July 19, 2013, 7:50 GMT

    They are not wildly unequal sides, and England would do well to remember this instead of being seduced into complacency by their own pre-season hype. The main difference is that, if Australia were 28 for 3, and if England had four fit and functioning bowlers (unlike at Trent Bridge), Australia would not approach 300 with wickets in hand.

  • dummy4fb on July 19, 2013, 6:17 GMT

    I still wonder if dropping Compton was a good idea. I had been sceptical about it then, I tend to remain sceptical about it now. At least Compton is an opener and I think a better batsman overall than Root. He had been having a bad run in international cricket, but I think it would have been a better idea to have him at the top and push Root down the order.

  • dummy4fb on July 19, 2013, 4:33 GMT

    England need a better opener than Root. Also, Oz has 6 real bowlers including Watson and Smith whereas England has only 4. England need to promote Prior to 6 so that either Woakes or Bresnan can play at 7 and Panesar can come in--many on this Australian line-up do not play spin so well. At least at Old Trafford, England need to play two spinners.

  • Chris_P on July 18, 2013, 23:47 GMT

    Without bagging him too much, as an Aussie, I am more than happy having Bairstow there ahead of others, as it appears (like a couple of our batsmen too) that there is always a chance of a wicket soon. I have read where Root is a regular FC opener, but there appears to be, from the 2 matches I have seen, some serious issues to address as an opener. Again, I prefer to see him rather than Crompton as Root appears to be a chance of a wicket. Not saying he doesn't deserve to be there, obviously has plenty of talent, but he appears to be most likely to fall as an opener.

  • Beertjie on July 18, 2013, 22:57 GMT

    Bairstow is not the one to be given these opportunities now. England are risking a lot. Bell can't continue to bail them out and when he fails they may come a-cropper. Maybe that's why they picked Bresnan rather than Finn. Hope Rogers comes good on his 'home' turf. This is the moment for a '72-like turn around, so holding thumbs for you boys. Just need some luck which has been conspicuous by its absence.