If the latest new beginning in the Test career of Jonny Bairstow told us anything, it was that the old Jonny Bairstow has never really gone away. And thank goodness for that.
Moments after he had been given out lbw to Mohammed Siraj for 37 – an industrious innings forged from the ruins of 62 for five – he could be seen berating a steward at the bottom of the steps leading up to England’s dressing-room.
Not only had the stewards themselves – many in bright orange jackets – been moving around too much for his tastes, but spectators in the Oval pavilion had not exactly been glued to their seats either. That, according to onlookers, was the gist of the grumble.
The latest new beginning in the Test career of Jonny Bairstow (above), taking the gloves and batting at 7 has shown us the old Jonny never really went away – and thank goodness for that
The England wicketkeeper-batsman made 37 but got out to a swinging Mohammed Siraj ball
What this had to do with a ball from Siraj that the CricViz analysts suggested was the best of the Test, since it combined extravagant seam movement with pace and accuracy, was unclear. But no one thought it prudent to ask.
Perhaps it’s a Yorkshire thing. Brian Close was famously never out through any fault of his own. If it wasn’t down to the 12th man, who had brought him the wrong-flavoured chewing-gum, it was because the previous batsman had misinformed him.
‘You told me it was swinging,’ complained Close, having become the third victim of a hat-trick. ‘You didn’t tell me it was seaming as well.’ Ray Illingworth, one of his successors as Yorkshire captain, continued the tradition.
On one occasion, he put his demise down to the umpire giving him the wrong guard. On another, in the Caribbean, he reckoned a small fruit had grown on the pitch during the lunch break.
In all likelihood, Bairstow was simply annoyed with himself, though the chastised steward – lying prostate on the steps as he absorbed the ear-bashing, to avoid another accusation of distracting batsmen – may have seen it differently.
This game represents a huge moment in a career that is both 78 Tests old and still strangely unformed.
Bairstow and Ollie Pope (right) came in with England in trouble but they steadied the ship well
But with speculation surrounding the Test future of Jos Buttler, who is missing this game as he awaits the birth of his second child, Bairstow knows he has a chance to nail the wicketkeeping position which, he feels, should have been his all along.
Thanks to the use of Craig Overton as nightwatchman, he was back in the No 7 position that has produced more Test runs (1,465) and hundreds (three) at a higher average (38) than any of the six other slots England have asked him to fill since his debut in 2012.
Things might have ended with indecent haste, as Umesh Yadav – on a roll after dismissing Overton and Dawid Malan – reviewed an lbw shout before Bairstow had scored. DRS had it missing leg. The close shave seemed to act as a catalyst.
With England looking likely to concede a first-innings lead, Bairstow and Pope went on the counter-attack.
Pope took three boundaries off the first over after mid-morning drinks from Shardul Thakur, and Bairstow responded with three off the second from Siraj. In those exchanges, England knocked off nearly 15% of India’s 191 – and the mood changed.
Bairstow might have been knocked off course by Jarvo, the tedious pitch invader who barged into him before being dragged off by stewards. But he eased the next ball from Jasprit Bumrah down the ground, then whipped him wide of mid-on for four more. Soon, Yadav was disappearing through extra cover.
Bairstow clashed with a pitch invader (left) and later berated a steward by the dressing room
Thanks to England’s riposte, they reached lunch in better heart at 139 for five, and the sixth-wicket stand had reached 91 when Siraj got one to spear back into Bairstow’s pads.
Unlike Pope, who has moved his guard from off to middle, Bairstow has reacted to being bowled too often by covering up his off stump, which has created a different problem: this was his sixth lbw in 11 Test innings.
Equally frustrating was his dismissal for 37 – the eighth time in 2021 he has fallen between 28 and 47. Even the lone half-century he has made this year, 57 in the first innings at Lord’s, left fans wanting more.
Yet despite all that, there was something reassuring about his performance yesterday, and without him England might easily have capsized.
If nothing else, it was all quintessential Bairstow: round-shouldered belligerence, punchy counter-thrusts, purposeful running and an unfailing sense of me against the world.
Even when the world, for a fractious few minutes, was a steward who got more than he bargained for, but will always have a story to tell the kids.