JONNY BAIRSTOW is determined to build on his breakthrough winter in international colours and insists that he is taking nothing for granted as he strives to remain an integral part of England’s plans.
The Yorkshire batsman/wicketkeeper came of age as an international player with his performances against South Africa in particular, helping England to a 2-1 Test series win against the world’s then No 1-ranked side.
Bairstow topped England’s averages in the four-match series with 359 runs at 71.8, seizing his chance and scoring his maiden Test century in the game at Cape Town.
The 26-year-old has benefited from an extended run in the team and the backing of the England management, whose faith he is keen to keep rewarding.
“It’s been good to kind of be out there consistently rather than be in-and-out a little bit,” said Bairstow, whose Test appearances had previously been sporadic.
“Going into the winter, I knew that it was an important winter for me really, and on the whole I thought it went pretty well.
“We lost the series to Pakistan, but if that first game had gone the other way (when England came agonisingly close to victory in Abu Dhabi), that may have been slightly different, and the games in South Africa speak for themselves.
“What a series that was; the performances that everyone put in were fantastic.
“Moving forward now, I’ve been working hard on my game because I certainly can’t take anything for granted.
“It’s easy enough to get yourself out of the (England) side, but it’s not so easy to get back in.
“It’s international sport, and I don’t think you can ever feel you’ve properly cemented anything because you’re only one injury away from not being in the side.
“There’s lots of hard work to be done and you can’t take it for granted.”
Bairstow certainly worked hard to force his way back into the England Test team.
More than 18 months separated his appearance in the final Test of the 2013-14 Ashes series and his recall for last summer’s third Test against Australia at Edgbaston.
But his case for inclusion became irrefutable during a golden 2015 in which he scored 1,108 runs at 92.33 to help Yorkshire to the County Championship title.
And he reprised that form with his century in Cape Town, where he was watched by his mum, Janet, and sister, Becky.
“Some of it was a bit of a blur, to be honest,” he said, reflecting on that hundred.
“Personally, it just was fantastic to get over the line after a few people had bits to say about whether or not I’d be able to do it, could I do it, etc, etc.
“It was a fantastic day for us as a family – not just those over in South Africa, but also back home – and I also had a group of mates out there sitting on the banks.
“I’m not sure if they’ll remember it too much, but it was great to have people over there.”
Bairstow hit 150 not out and shared in a sixth-wicket stand of 399 with Ben Stokes, who struck 258.
They served up some of the best attacking batting ever seen by an England pair, rattling along at the ridiculous rate of 6.91 runs per over.
Stokes experienced the flip-side of international sport last Sunday when he was hit for four successive sixes in the last over of the World T20 final by Carlos Brathwaite, which helped West Indies to a four-wicket win.
It was desperately cruel on the 24-year-old, and Bairstow believes Stokes will be even stronger for the experience.
“Stokesy won’t have any qualms about coming back and coming back strong, and it will give him an extra fire in his belly,” said Bairstow.
“You can see the way he performs in every form of the game for England and the passion that he portrays; that’s something that’s written within him and his genetics. He was the one that was brave enough to take that last over, and there’s been many performances that he’s put in that have transformed games for England.
“Fair play to the West Indies – they played well and it was a good chase – and it was a terrific performance by our boys in the tournament overall.”
Bairstow is now gearing up for Yorkshire duty and is available for four Championship games prior to the first Test.
The club are gunning for a hat-trick of titles, something not achieved by any county since Yorkshire themselves in 1968.
“I can’t wait,” said Bairstow.
“Last year was fantastic, and we move forward now into what is going to be a very tough county season.
“Everyone will be gunning for us, and this potentially is the strongest league we’ve had, with pretty much all the Test-playing clubs in the First Division.
“There will be no easy games, but we’re up for the challenge.”
n Jonny Bairstow was speaking on behalf of Waitrose, proud sponsor of the England Cricket Teams. He visited the Meanwood store yesterday and helped to deliver shopping to local customers as part of Waitrose’s Perfect Delivery Roadshow.