View from the Pavilion End: A Tale of Two Yorkshiremen
Jonny Bairstow will soon be joined in the England side by the equally talented Joe Root. The pair have delightfully contrasting styles
The notion that cricket is more revelatory of character than any other sport is fairly whiskery, yet few players exemplify it more clearly than Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root.
Only Bairstow has won a full Test cap but Root's time will surely come. When they bat together, as they did in putting on 128 for England A at Old Trafford the other week, spectators across the globe will be treated to a curious cocktail of batting skills.
A contrast can be detected even in their walks to the wicket: Bairstow strides to the crease as if determined to put an end of whatever nonsense has seen his team lose all these wickets. He might almost be a young PE teacher bustling out into the playground to break up a fight. Root, by contrast, is almost academic, strolling out to the middle as if he himself is rather intrigued as to how he might play this bowling.
Then there are the shots the two Yorkshiremen play. Both players hit it hard, of course, but Bairstow does so very obviously and with grim-faced pleasure. The crunching pull and brutal cut are his stock in trade. They are muscular rejoinders to a bowler's perceived insult.
"Don't waste my time with that, laddie!" he says, even if the laddie in question is Dale Steyn. Bairstow's manner is truculent, pugnacious, which is why his brief frailty against short-pitched bowling earlier this season was so surprising.
For some of us, Bairstow revives memories of Ken Barrington; for others, Allan Lamb or Robin Smith. They are warm recollections too, recalling afternoons of defiance against Wes Hall, Charlie Griffiths, Waqar Younis, Malcolm Marshall. Not inappropriately, our lives become a series of rearguards.
Root is a more decorous batsman than Bairstow. His drives and glides are a triumph of touch and feel, as if all the energy of the delivery is being chanelled into his response.
At 21, the Sheffield-born Root is two years younger than his county colleague but he looks about 15. Graceful and courteous, he dismantles attacks with almost apologetic command. The ball that is bowled becomes merely the context of the stroke that he plays.
For some of us, Root recalls black-and-white images of Tom Graveney or Colin Cowdrey; for others, Jeffrey Dujon or V V S Laxman. They are magical recollections too, sudden inductions into the alchemy of timing, power seemingly without effort, a curtain drawn back on the possible. Not inappropriately, our lives become a series of formative experiences.
Before long, Yorkshire's loss will be England's gain. For all their differences in style, both Bairstow and Root possess that tough-minded desire to succeed and a ruthless ambition to play Test cricket.
Bairstow's 95 against South Africa followed a century for Yorkshire against Leicestershire and 139 for the England Lions against Australia A. Root made 70 against the tourists, a late-in-the-day delight which recalled Harold Pinter's essay, Hutton and the Past, and its evocative sentence: "That beautiful evening, Compton made 70."
For now, though, we have seen Bairstow batting with predictable blood and guts fortitude precisely at the time when many doubted him. Eventually, five runs short of a century, he was frustrated into error by Morne Morkel. It would not be surprising to discover that the air in the Lord's dressing room was blue a few moments after his return.
But when the 2015 Lord's Test is being played, Australians may be confronted by both Yorkshireman, one of them prowling the crease in evident rage, the other ambling away for a moment's reflection.