Monday, 23 May 2016

All aboard the Bairstow bandwagon

Monday, 23 May 2016
Sometimes in cricket - or indeed any team sport - there are those certain players you feel just a bit more protective over. Maybe they're from your county, or there's something else about them that endears them to you, but you root for them just that little bit more and get more annoyed about any perceived injustices from selectors. For myself, Jonny Bairstow is one of those players. And naturally his success in the first test against Sri Lanka, and more generally over the past year, has been absolutely delightful for me.

Bairstow is one of those players who has been in and out of the England side more than most, across all formats of the game. Whilst he's clearly had the ability to pull off something special - his 41* from 21 balls on ODI debut showed that straight away - there have been plenty of stops and starts along the way. There have been the moments where he's looked every bit the international cricketer, but often too, he has struggled. His technique makes it difficult to dispel the doubters, with all that bottom hand and holding the bat in a way that looks more baseball than cricket; and the glovework still has plenty of room for improvement.

But there were still the reasons to feel he was treated a bit unfairly. Though success could be followed by setback, it wasn't always of his own making. Carrying the gloves in the Champions Trophy wasn't the ideal preparation for the Ashes series to come, and being chucked the gloves in the winter with Australia already 3-0 and ascendant was hardly an enviable task, to name some examples. Sometimes a player doesn't always help themselves, but it doesn't feel like the selectors help them too much either.

Over the last year or so though, Bairstow has been in the kind of form that makes him impossible to ignore. And now he is truly starting to deliver on his potential on the international stage. Certainly he has one of those most important qualities: the man is a fighter. Bairstow seems to specialise in those quick, counter-punchy innings when things aren't entirely going to plan, not letting the opposition settle. He also seems to specialise in mammoth partnerships: his maiden century in South Africa with Stokes hitting the ball everywhere at the other end; last year against Durham with Tim Bresnan; just a few weeks ago with Joe Root against Surrey. A position of weakness can soon be transformed into a position of strength. 140 from Bairstow here, alongside an impressive 86 from Alex Hales, certainly put the match in England's favour. Nine catches behind the stumps added extra gloss. On his home ground, Bairstow showed himself to be a Headingley hero.

While Bairstow might love playing at Headingley, that isn't always true of England's bowlers. Surprisingly for a ground with such a reputation for swing, it's always been tough going for James Anderson. Just two years ago, though with the bat, it was the scene of heartbreak against the same opposition, with the series lost as Anderson was dismissed on the penultimate ball of the match. Finally though, everything fell into place. A switch of ends was all it took, and England were on fire. Anderson took ten wickets in the match, with five in each innings, previously not having taken more than three in an innings at the ground. Broad also took four wickets in the first innings, and Finn three in the second, whilst Stokes saw some vicious swing before his match was ended by injury. It was a harsh lesson for the Sri Lankan batsman unfamiliar in such conditions.

And so, a fine win by an innings and 88 runs to begin the international summer for England. Sri Lanka bowled well, having England struggling at 83/5 before Bairstow joined Hales at the crease, but after that they barely got a sniff. England's batting remains a puzzle to be solved, though the innings by Alex Hales will offer encouragement, showing more of the discipline he needs in the test arena. The main selection dilemma will be who to replace Ben Stokes - the genuine all round option of Chris Woakes, despite a difficult time in South Africa; or a shuffle to the lower order to bring in Jake Ball, the twelfth man in the squad here who has been in fine form for Nottinghamshire this season. The second test begins in Durham on Friday, and may once again promise much for England's seamers.


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