Bairstow en­ter­ing pan­theon of the great ODI bats­men

Opener’s flu­ent de­struc­tion of Ire­land’s bowlers shows he now de­serves to be ranked with the finest white-ball play­ers

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Cricket - By Tim Wig­more

We need to talk about Jonny. It has of­ten felt this way in English cricket in re­cent years, where it has been hard to es­cape dis­cus­sions about Bairstow in the Test team. Should he keep? Where should he bat? Should he play at all?

Some­where along the way, the story of his devel­op­ment into one of Eng­land’s great­est white-ball crick­eters has been lost.

In the his­tory of one-day in­ter­na­tional cricket, 70 play­ers have scored 2,000 runs open­ing the bat­ting. Bairstow has the se­cond best av­er­age of this group – and the best strike rate of the lot. He is an ODI marvel, mar­ry­ing the con­sis­tency needed to av­er­age 50.2 with a strike rate of 111 – a ruth­less ex­ploiter of the field­ing re­stric­tions and re­li­able run-scorer all wrapped up in one.

Tra­di­tion­ally, open­ing in ODIs is about mak­ing a choice. Some play­ers, such as Ge­off Marsh, Alas­tair Cook and Gary Kirsten, pro­vided so­lid­ity. Oth­ers, such as Bren­don McCul­lum, Shahid Afridi and Sanath Jaya­suriya, pri­ori­tised ex­ploit­ing the field­ing re­stric­tions. Even the phe­nomenons Viren­der Se­hwag and Adam Gilchrist av­er­aged only 36 open­ing, show­ing how their bel­liger­ence was ac­com­pa­nied by rel­a­tive in­con­sis­tency.

Com­par­ing play­ers be­tween eras in ODIs is harder than in any other for­mat; rules and av­er­age scores have con­stantly evolved. Yet, while he has played far less than them, Bairstow’s ca­reer is shap­ing up so he can be grouped among the very elite open­ers – Saeed An­war, David Warner, Ro­hit Sharma and even Sachin Ten­dulkar – who scored more quickly and more re­li­ably than their con­tem­po­raries.

Ab­surd as it is to think now, in Eng­land’s re­build af­ter the 2015 World Cup, Bairstow was ini­tially marked out for a role as a mid­dle­order spare part. When there was a tem­po­rary va­cancy as opener at the start of 2017, Eng­land en­trusted the role to Sam Billings in­stead of Bairstow. And when Jos Buttler missed ODIs to play in the In­dian Premier League, Billings was handed the gloves.

Bairstow was piqued. He chan­nelled his frus­tra­tion into scor­ing abun­dantly; he moved up to open with York­shire, sens­ing it might be his best route into Eng­land’s side. Yet when he was thrust into open­ing in the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy semi­fi­nal in 2017, af­ter Ja­son Roy’s form col­lapsed, it seemed a tem­po­rary so­lu­tion; he had opened only seven times in county one-day cricket.

His flu­ent 82 against Ire­land on Satur­day was merely the lat­est re­minder that Bairstow is be­com­ing – per­haps al­ready is – the con­sum­mate mod­ern ODI opener, com­bin­ing old-age con­sis­tency with the py­rotech­nics that the age of T20 de­mands. While Roy can be­gin even more de­struc­tively, Bairstow has found a way to start quickly – with a strike rate of 90 in his first 10 balls – with min­i­mal risk. He is adept thump­ing both pace and spin; in­deed, his av­er­age and strike rate against spin are even bet­ter than against pace. Re­mark­ably, all nine of his cen­turies have come at a strike rate above 100.

Even be­fore be­ing Eng­land’s se­cond top scorer in last year’s World Cup tri­umph, Bairstow en­tered rar­efied ter­ri­tory in a daz­zling maiden IPL campaign. His 445 runs, in 10 games, was the se­cond high­est tally any English­man has man­aged in the IPL.

Bairstow now has an aura at the crease, a tes­ta­ment to his ex­tra­or­di­nary skill and drive. But it also re­flects how, a few years ago, he moved his tech­nique to be more leg side of the ball; as CricViz’s Fred­die Wilde has shown, this com­pro­mised his Test de­fence while em­pow­er­ing him to hit through the off side in white-ball cricket.

There is still a strand in English cricket that thinks this trade-off is not worth it. But this tweak helped Eng­land win their first World Cup and made Bairstow one of the best white-ball bats­men in the world.

In a sense, he is caught be­tween worlds: the tra­di­tional de­mands of English cricket – for play­ers to master the Test game – and the op­por­tu­ni­ties other for­mats now present. Bairstow may or may not play Tests again. In some ways, it does not mat­ter: his legacy as one of Eng­land’s great­est white-ball bats­men is al­ready as­sured.

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