Performance of The Day: Jonny Bairstow
The precocious Yorkshire batsman buried the myth that he cannot play short-pitched pace bowling with an innings of true class
When the West Indies' Kemar Roach reduced Jonny Bairstow to a forlorn white-faced figure trudging back to the Trent Bridge pavilion as though he had seen a ghost, it was widely assumed he had a problem against the short ball.
Although supporters of the precociously talented Yorkshireman said that too much was read into one game, even they worried that the widespread perception might undermine Bairstow’s confidence.
The 22-year-old was dropped by England’s selectors who feared he would not be able to cope against the pace of Morkel and Steyn and he went back to his county to rebuild his technique.
Initially, he could not buy a run for Yorkshire, his confidence undermined by his England failures, but then suddenly something clicked again. He made a solid hundred for Yorkshire, then an eye-catching and timely one for England A against an Australian attack containing Mitchell Johnson.
After Pietersen was dropped and with Bopara still unavailable, England had no option but to gamble by picking Bairstow again.
But when he came in to bat at 54-4, no one was quite sure how he would cope against two of the world’s best fast bowlers, Steyn and Morkel, and the inevitable barrage of bouncers. Could Bairstow be another Graham Hick, a fabulous talent reduced to mediocrity at Test level by his leaden-footed technique against pace?
Bairstow buried the myth with an innings of composure and the highest class. Morkel was at his very best and targeted Bairstow's chin with awkwardly angled bouncers propelled at high pace that were reminiscent of the great Courtney Walsh. But Bairstow kept his balance, veered out of the way and left the ball with superb judgment outside his off stump.
Meanwhile, Dale Steyn was also at his most dangerous. Finding a superb rhythm from the Pavilion End, he bowled with real pace and tested Bairstow’s reflexes with skiddy, well-targeted bouncers. Instead of swaying, Bairstow was forced to duck most of them. But at no stage did he look in danger against the short ball.
Had Pietersen been playing, this is the kind of innings one would have wanted him to play. Bairstow established himself with solid watchful defence, but put away the very rare bad balls when they came. Early on, Morkel bowled a half volley on his legs and Bairstow punched it down the Lord’s slope for four.
Later, he sensibly targeted the leg-spinner Imran Tahir, taking three fours in one over, one of them slightly chancy through mid wicket, but another one a marvellously placed stroke wide of mid on’s outstretched hand. After tea, Bairstow started to take on the short ball and pulled Morkel with a short-arm jab for four.
With his commanding presence, ability to time the ball, and his sheer power, there is something of Pietersen’s star quality and charisma in Bairstow’s batting.
He has already made four first-class hundreds this summer, which is more than any other batsman in a calendar severely reduced by rain. A hundred here would be his fifth of the year, and would establish him in the England side for the foreseeable future. Within a year or two he will be joined by his 21-year-old Yorkshire teammate Joe Root, at least as promising a talent as Bairstow.