When Jonny Bairstow returned with meagre returns from the Ashes tour of 2014 — and duly dropped for the next series — he stuck a deal with Yorkshire coach Jason Gillespie, the former Australian fast bowler. That they would never discuss his batting technique ever again or try to mend his ways. For, there were far too many advises from various quarters, expected as he’s the son of Danny, a much-loved former England wicket-keeper who committed suicide out of depression when Jonny was just eight years old. The counsel might have been well-intentional, but it only muddled his thought processes. He just wanted a break out of it.
Gillespie agreed, for he knew the disillusioned state of mind of the youngster, moreover has seen and played enough cricket to fathom that methods don’t necessarily beget the results, and Jonny he knew was immensely talented. “The only advice would be when he sought it and based solely on his game-plan for any given day. We’ll talk only about the returns and not the methods,” Gillespie wrote in his Guardian column later.
Gillespie also would have realised that there is an inner steel in him, conditioned by the spate of tragedies he had endure in life; like the suicide of his father, his mother’s brush with cancer (when he was playing in India in 2012); his rejection by Leeds United and then seeing his chum James Taylor retiring prematurely from the game due to a heart condition.
So the Yorkshire coach let him be; Jonny was let to play on his own terms — with the feet wide apart in his stance, bat held high over his shoulders like a baseball player, the bat coming down at an angle from the second slip, a predominantly bottom-handed grip, a propensity to reach for the ball and the seemingly fatal tendencies to play round his front pad and fling across the line, ala Kevin Pietersen. Maybe, that accounted for his struggles against Mitchell Johnson at his inflammable best, and his own ineptness in converting starts in the nascence of his career, when he would be in utter control all through but then vanquish when he’s least expected to.
Reverting to his natural methods reaped him rich rewards, or rather continues to. For ever since that revival season with Yorkshire, wherein he averaged a Bradmanesque 100.66 in 11 matches in 2014-15, he was re-initiated to the national side, and hasn’t looked back since.
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A body of 1,716 runs at 53 a match apiece in his second coming attests to his renewed efficiency. A good amount of those runs have come not only at a fair lick, but also in vital junctures of the game, magnifying his match-defining reputation.
Perhaps lost in his stereotypical no-holds-barred aggressor image, something chiefly fed by his exploits in the shorter forms of the game, is his ability to deliver in diverse conditions, a further testimony to the instinct-over-method approach.
He’s racked up runs against different oppositions in different conditions — against Dale Steyn and Co in Cape Town, in a seaming Headingley deck against Sri Lanka, against the arcane trickery of Yasir Shah and on the dustbowls of India, against the most influential spinner in his own conditions. He has breezed through several knocks, as much as he has grafted through. He has scored a 150 not out in 191 balls, then he has also whittled out 47 off 147 balls. That probably shows he’s not a uni-dimensional batsman.
Bairstow just guffaws when asked to pinpoint the specifics of his purple patch. But he, ironically, slips in the word method into his answer. “It’s just finding a method – finding a way and finding a mindset of scoring runs. Trying to stay out there for as long as possible,” he says.
One aspect of his batting definitely is a throwaway clue, which in a way explains the essence of his batting. It’s how still he was at the crease and how late he was moving towards the ball. He almost plays it alongside him. Such an approach has benefitted him against the Indian spinners. Even against Ravindra Jadeja, he wouldn’t commit to his front foot. He would patiently wait on the back foot, thought it’s risk-fraught as brisker than most other spinners.
Eye for singles
Another noticeable facet is his ever-vigilant eye for singles. You’d imagine someone of his canvas of strokes would rely extravagantly on boundaries. But he just struck six of them on Saturday. He ran as many as 36 singles and 12 twos, that is nearly half of the singles his teammates put together (78) and more than the number of twos they’d run. Suffice it to say that he has a Kohli-like incandescence when haring between the wickets.
Maybe, the one aspect he wants to improve is his recurrence of getting out in the 70s and 80s, when seemingly destined for a hundred. In 60 innings, he has been out six times between 70s and 95. He felt aghast at getting out on 89 today, especially after passing emphatically several tests of technique and temperament-from uneven bounce to Ashwin’s vibrancy and Shami’s reverse swing to Jadeja’s niftiness. “I was really cheesed off to get out like that this evening. That hurt me pretty bad to get out like that because I thought I’d played quite nicely all the way through. Desperately disappointing for myself to get out, especially towards the end of the day because I thought we fought back really well,” he says.
Upgradation to No. 5-a longer overdue promotion, given his volume of runs-will furnish him to accumulate more hundreds. On the eve of the match, skipper Alastair Cook retorted to an apprehensive query regarding Bairstow’s temperance at No. 5 thus, “He had a glint in his eyes.”
Bairstow let out a wistful smile when he heard this in the press conference on Saturday, before he underplayed the appraisal. “As I have said before, I don’t really mind where I bat. It’s not something that plays on my mind, whether a nightwatchman comes in and I’m at 8. It’s quite pleasing to be batting at five, because I feel like I’m in good form. The confidence captain showed in me to bat me at 5, along with the coach and the rest of the side, is really good. And I’d like to think I’ve repaid the faith that they put in me,” he says. Humble words from someone who has been likened to Pietersen.