IT WAS absolutely typical of Jonny Bairstow that he should score a hundred on the opening day of the Colombo Test.
So much so, that anyone who did not steal their grandmother’s life savings and head to the nearest bookmaker to bet on him doing so should rightly be imprisoned for stupidity.
Bairstow has made a career out of proving people wrong to the extent that it is a wonder that he has any detractors left.
Whatever challenges have been thrown at him (some far beyond the confines of sport), he has risen to them in a manner that scoffs: “Is that the best you can do?”
He seemed to be saying something similar to the England hierarchy – and to certain sections of the media – as he celebrated his sixth Test century as the tourists scored 312-7 as they chase a 3-0 series clean sweep.
It was a celebration that was passionate at best and angry at worst after Bairstow was left out of the side for the second Test in Kandy after losing the wicketkeeping gloves to Ben Foakes.
It is old news that Bairstow was unceremoniously axed from the batsman/keeper role after an injury playing football kept him out of the first Test in Galle.
But the pent-up emotion was clear after Bairstow reached three figures at the Sinhalese Sports Club Ground, the Yorkshireman letting out several guttural roars with his eyes aflame, his veins bulging out and his face as red as his ginger hair.
Batting at No 3 for the first time (the only position that England felt able to squeeze him in due to captain Joe Root’s reluctance to fill that slot), Bairstow made an instant success of the job.
Even those of us who feel that Root should be batting at No 3 were not remotely surprised that Bairstow should do so; after all, this is a man who has constantly flourished in the face of adversity.
He seemed to be saying something similar to the England hierarchy – and to certain sections of the media – as he celebrated his sixth Test century as the tourists scored 312-7 as they chase a 3-0 series clean sweep.Chris Waters
At the start of his Test career, Bairstow’s critics said that he had problems against the short delivery, that his technique was not up to scratch for the five-day game, only for him to emphatically prove them wrong.
Later, they said that his wicketkeeping was not good enough before he became one of the safest pairs of hands in the game.
Some felt that he was not good enough for England’s one-day side, too, and then, when he finally got his chance in an unfamiliar role as opening batsman, he showed the sort of versatility that he displayed yesterday at No 3.
To think that England left him out at Kandy seems as ridiculous now as it did at the time. As he pointed out himself: “It was only three Tests ago that I was one of the top-10 batters in the world.”
An England side without Bairstow is not an advert for competent selection.
Even worse, he might not have played in this match had Sam Curran been fit, the all-rounder’s side strain creating a place.
But after Keaton Jennings and Rory Burns fell early, Bairstow took centre stage in a manner that shamed the England hierarchy.
From the moment that he caressed his first ball to the cover boundary, he looked like a man whose body language screamed “I’ll show you”, attacking with customary flair but also in a controlled manner that betrayed his intense desire to succeed.
It was hot out there – the humidity at times appeared to cause more problems than Sri Lanka’s bowlers – and Bairstow sometimes struggled with cramp.
It made his first Test century since March even more impressive, the first by an England No 3 in Test cricket since Root’s 124 against India at Rajkot two years ago.
Bairstow’s hundred celebrations also had echoes of Nasser Hussain’s infamous three-fingered salute at Lord’s in 2002, which emphasised to the watching world that he, too, deserved his place – also batting at No 3.
Whether No 3 is Bairstow’s best position going forward remains to be seen; ironically, he is less likely to get the gloves back if he does well in the role.
It will be a different challenge against Australia next summer, for example, batting against the Dukes ball in England, while a failure for Foakes late on – as England slipped from 235-3 – cautioned that those who have pencilled Foakes in for the next decade have based their conclusions on fairly scanty evidence against lesser opposition.
Bairstow certainly has no intention of relinquishing the gloves permanently (they are, at present, begrudgingly on loan to the Surrey man) and has proven longevity as batsman/keeper.
But no matter how he is treated by the England management, he keeps finding a way to perform, emphasising the fact for the umpteenth time before he was fourth out bowled trying to hit across the line at spinner Lakshan Sandakan, who took 4-91.
England did not get as many runs as they had threatened, although they have still posted a decent score on the board.
Root struck 46 before skying to mid-wicket, sharing 100 with Bairstow, who then added 99 with Ben Stokes, who hit 57 but should have been given out lbw on nought only for Sri Lanka to have earlier wasted their reviews.
Jos Buttler was caught-and-bowled but Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid lived to fight the second day, Moeen having been dropped twice and also given out twice lbw only for those decisions to be reversed on review, putting him just under halfway to enjoying as many lives as the proverbial cat.