In the white-ball game, Bairstow doesn’t have any particular length where he struggles. ©AFP
Since Jonny Bairstow returned to England’s ODI team during the 2017 Champions Trophy, he averages 51.21.
In that time, his strike rate is 110.97.
He has nine ODI hundreds and eight half-centuries.
His half-century at the Ageas Bowl, off 21 balls, was the joint-quickest for England in ODI cricket.
He is also the joint-quickest English player to 3,000 ODI runs.
He is part of one of the best-ever opening partnerships in the history of the ODI game.
He is a World Cup winner, having scored hundreds in two must-win matches for England during the group stages of last year’s tournament.
He has all of that to his name and yet rarely do his exploits against the white-ball get spoken about in the reverence that they should. Instead, Bairstow always seems to be judged by his Test record. In the lead up to this series, he was asked by Sky Sports about his Test future, having been left out of England’s squad for last month’s series against West Indies and for next week’s first Test against Pakistan. He was also asked about it numerous times in the post-match press conference today. He is going back to play four-day cricket for Yorkshire after this series and you can be sure that all eyes will be on him then too.
But Bairstow doesn’t always have to be seen through the lens of his Test match exploits.
His 82 off 41 deliveries at the Ageas Bowl showcased, in particular, two of the standout qualities that make him such a formidable 50-over player. The first is his ability to punish – and really punish – any length. With some batsmen, a bowler might be able to defend on a certain length, knowing that the batter isn’t as destructive there. England bowled back of a length to Ireland’s opener Gareth Delaney in this game, for instance, having seen how he scored off anything full in the opening match of the series. He registered a 12-ball duck.
But Bairstow doesn’t have any particular length where he struggles. Wherever the Irish bowlers went, he cracked on. When Craig Young bowled short, Bairstow pulled. When Young bowled a good length, he also pulled. When Josh Little (and Young) went full, he hit in an arc between cover and midwicket, on the ground or over the top.
Even balls which would normally be considered deliveries to respect, Bairstow hit for four. His 12th boundary was smashed on the up through mid-off off Little, the shot of the day against a ball which was worth a dot or a single. Another good length ball later was heaved into the leg-side. Against the spin of Andy McBrine, Bairstow used his feet to loft him straight.
He hit 14 boundaries and two sixes in all before Little dismissed him with a wide delivery which Bairstow will think he should have carved away for four rather than edging behind. Until that point, no length had been safe.
The second quality that Bairstow has is brutality. You wouldn’t say he is a touch player in one-day cricket. Nor are some of his shots particularly classical. When he drives, the bat can turn in his hand. When he plays through the leg-side, it is sometimes more of a shovel than a caress. He’s happy to simply plonk the ball over the infield early on and nor is he afraid of a good old fashioned heave every now and then. Sam Billings, who played a vital hand, is more attractive on the eye. So too James Vince and Tom Banton.
It is not that Bairstow does not have touch and timing, of course. The ball raced off his bat faster and sweeter than anyone else in this game. But there is plenty of brawn in his play and, judging by his physique, a bit more muscle has been added during lockdown. Nobody in the English line-up, not even Jason Roy or Ben Stokes, oozes quite as much raw aggression as Bairstow does when he is in this sort of mood. His belligerence was immediate and the Irish bowlers certainly felt it.
Bairstow took seven boundaries and a six from his first 17 deliveries, despite the early loss of Roy. Other openers might have gone into their shell after the early loss, particularly given Bairstow himself failed in the first game, falling LBW for just 2. But England’s batting mantra under Eoin Morgan is not one of pressure absorption. “There is a very small amount of framework by the way we operate our batting,” England’s captain said before game one. “A lot is just trying to apply pressure on the opposition the whole time.” Bairstow is the epitome of that philosophy.
As he walked to the crease, he could be seen muttering to himself. He had a few words with Little early on after inside edging the bowler past the stumps. After the game, Bairstow wouldn’t give away much of what he was saying to himself but admitted that without spectators in the ground to provide some atmosphere, he decided to make some of his own. As he also said, chasing a lower total on a pitch that “wasn’t coming on” can be tricky but he resolved to keep playing in the aggressive manner England have been for the past five years.
The rest of the top order tried to follow his lead but with a lot less success. The delivery which removed Roy could probably have been left but it was also very full and Roy does not often watch those go by. Instead, his downfall was a question of execution, playing the ball out in front of him as it moved away. His frustration was evident as he let out a scream when he got back to the dressing room. Vince and Banton both missed balls they were trying to force off the skiddy medium pace of Curtis Campher. Vince’s seamed in a touch of the pitch while Banton’s looked straight to start with and straight to finish with. Both will feel they could have done better.
Morgan’s second ball was a long-hop which he slapped to cover. It looked a poor shot, and in execution it was, but it was there to be hit. He just didn’t get it. Moeen Ali’s was another dismissal that won’t look good when he watches it back but it was a short ball on leg-stump which he tried to get inside and flick down to fine leg. Perhaps he could have let it go by given England had just lost two quick wickets and it was just his third delivery. But then again, the team’s philosophy is clear. As Morgan put it: “Trying to apply pressure on the opposition the whole time.”
That’s what Bairstow did, helping his team to an unassailable two-nil series lead. It is what he has done for the best part of three and half years now as England’s one-day opener. He may become the Test player that many still think – and hope – that he can be. He may not. He certainly wants to regain his place in Joe Root’s team. But rather than continually view him through the lens of his Test career, perhaps it would be far better to appreciate his feats in ODI cricket. They really are something.