Jonny Bairstow likes to sleep. He can doze off anywhere. In the dressing room, in the bus. He has to be involved, do something, else he can drift off. Unluckily for India, he was up to something whole day at Lord’s. Defending, driving, nurdling, and constantly chatting and urging on Chris Woakes. He missed a ton, but saw to that Woakes got his, and together left India hoping for rains.
It was Ben Stokes’s dazzling knock that changed the life for Bairstow the batsman. It happened two years ago at Cape Town where Stokes plundered the South Africans and Bairstow came up with a measured hundred, his first in Tests. “Old Johnny would have been in competition with Stokes. If someone hit a six, he would want to hit a bigger one. That day in Cape Town, he realised he didn’t have to become bigger, better than anyone else: that he could just be Johnny,” says Ian Dews, a mentor of sorts and Yorkshire’s director of development cricket.
In the calming presence of Bairstow, the tall Woakes, who has a great record at Lord’s with bat and ball, eased his way to a lovely ton to ensure England don’t fret too much about the proceedings at a court in Bristol. It helped that India had decided to go with two spinners, leaving Umesh Yadav to keep himself warm in the dressing room. Hardik Pandya had a very good day with the ball, using the crease better than others, creating angles to keep the batsmen honest and Mohammad Shami was at his nagging self but honest and nagging wasn’t going to cut it. Kuldeep Yadav was too slow for this track and Ashwin too couldn’t separate the pair.
Regular cricket watchers know the incredibly inspiring story of Bairstow. At the age of 8, he walked into the room where his father, a former cricketer suffering from depression, had hung himself. How he is extremely close to his mother Janet, a cancer survivor. Here, we shall stick to his cricket and how he has changed over the years.
For 10 years almost, Dews has been urging Bairstow to be Johnny. Be the best he can be, instead of trying to outdo others. Some of the stories are hilarious and revealing of younger Bairstow. Dews cues up a story from club cricket when Bairstow was 16.
“There was this lad who would hit big sixes and he hit a few that day in Headingly. It was the last ball before lunch, and we all thought Johnny would defend like any sensible lad. Instead, he walked down the track and hit a six out of the ground. He walked into the dressing room saying, ‘Did you see that? My six was the bigger than anything he did!'”
Rugby, football, hockey, cricket
A talented sportsman, he was good at everything. “Rugby, football (he was with Leeds juniors from age of 7 to 15), hockey. It was clear that whichever sports he finally decided to go for, he was going to be a good player. How good, nobody knew,” Dews tells this newspaper.
Not only was he good at cricket but Bairstow wanted to do everything. Be involved. “At one point, for our club, he would open batting, open the bowling (he would bowl good seam-up), and later, bowl spin, again both off and legspin. And of course, he was always ready to keep wickets! It was insane!”
If he wasn’t involved, he would get bored and would rather sleep. “Oh yes, the sleeping. I have come to dressing room at lunch and seen him take a 20-minute nap after he had his food. He would sleep in the team-bus. He could sleep anywhere, anytime if he wasn’t doing.” And that’s why he is so hellbent on keeping for England. There has been some criticism about it affecting his batting in the English press, but he isn’t in mood to listen. “If there is criticism of him, he would make sure he goes and do exactly that – only better. And he would go, “see, I told you I could do it.”
It all changed that day in Cape Town. “I think it was such a phenomenal knock by Stokes that Johnny realised that he couldn’t better it. He didn’t have to be in competition. That he could bat carefully and that’s what was best for the team. From then on, he hasn’t looked back.” Or at others.
Flaming hair on his head and that ginger beard has given him the nickname Ron Weasley after the Harry Potter character. Also because he was also smaller than most other kids in his team. “But he would always be the one who would give the ball the biggest whack. He would always be playing other sports as I told you, and one day I asked him what he had learnt from rugby. What lesson he had picked up that helped him in his cricket? And he said, ‘Decision making. As I worked behind the worst pack of forwards ever and if I didn’t act or think quickly, I would get hit by the other pack, get crushed by the others.’ That’s typical Johnny. He would always set goals for himself to best at everything. What has happened for better now is that he has realised the best for him isn’t to outgun others but to be himself.”
The joy at English dressing room balcony when Woakes pulled one to get to his hundred said it all how much the partnership meant to them. They were clapping and grinning like kids and happiness flooded in the arena. In the middle, Bairstow bear-hugged an extremely delighted Woakes. Not long after he would walk back, grim-faced, but as he neared the boundary, the crowd gave such a thunderous applause that he was startled out of his private world.