“I hope I’m in the next one-day side, I hope so. Everyone wants to play and I haven’t thought about it too much just yet, there is a lot of stuff going on between now and the next ODI. It is important not to look towards that ODI series just yet but I hope I play.”
England wicketkeeper-batsman, Jonny Bairstow, had said this after he slammed a 60 off 35 balls against South Africa in a T20 in Southampton only a week after England's exit from the Champions Trophy in June this year.
The next time England played an ODI was on Wednesday against the visiting West Indies side. Not many expected Bairstow to retain his place as opener – a role he donned in the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy – yet England showed more faith in his consistency than Jason Roy's belligerence.
“We feel Jonny deserves a chance. He's been waiting in the wings for quite a while," captain Eoin Morgan had said before the first ODI. "He will open with Alex Hales. This is an opportunity to make the opening position his."
England need six more to win the first rain-shortened ODI against the West Indies. Bairstow gives himself room and drives spinner Ashley Nurse straight to the cover fielder. No run taken. A repeat of that happens next ball. The third time Bairstow steps out, gives himself room and beats that cover fielder by a whisker. He then sets off scampering and completes a third run, panting and sweating by then, takes off his helmet and raises his bat to a century in coloured clothing for the very first time.
Bairstow had repaid the faith of his captain and management with a spectacularly compiled maiden hundred in front of a packed Old Trafford Stadium. It had come after a lot of toil and suffering. The Yorkshire wicketkeeper-batsman was always touted for big things but his rise as a player coincided with that of Jos Buttler, a pragmatic yet dynamic, modern-day wizard.
Two ’keepers in a team is unusual even if one is good enough to pluck catches out of thin air like Bairstow did on Wednesday to send back West Indies’ Shai Hope. In his statements after the T20 against South Africa in June, the Yorkshire batsman used the word 'hope’ thrice in three sentences. He had done all he could in the past few months but a consistent run in the limited-overs side eluded him. All he could do was 'hope’ that he gets more opportunities.
A batsman who slammed 1,470 Test runs in 2016, seven less than that of Joe Root, at a pretty good average, had no place in the team’s limited-overs setup. And very few were complaining. England’s performances in coloured clothing had taken a massive U-turn since the 2015 World Cup and with players like Ben Stokes, Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler manning the middle-order, it was quite understandable that England were forced to sit out Bairstow.
But in the Champions Trophy, their truculent opener, Jason Roy, ran into a rut. He made just 51 runs in his last eight ODI matches and was a sitting duck for fast bowlers in the multi-team tournament in England. This prompted the selectors to go to Bairstow as opener in the all-important semi-final against Pakistan. The wicketkeeper-batsman made a valuable 43 in a low-scoring thriller which England lost.
It wasn't the first time Bairstow had answered the selectors’ call in limited-overs cricket. Earlier in the summer, he slammed a 44-ball 72 against Ireland in an ODI at Lord's. He isn't quite in the Roy or Quinton de Kock mould, but Bairstow is by no means a slow scorer. He is free flowing, sublime to watch and combines stability with class to channel his aggression in the right manner. What he brings to the table is a risk-free attacking approach at the top of the order.
This complements his partner at the other end, Alex Hales, quite well. While Roy and Hales are similar kind of players, Bairstow can change his role according to the situation, a trait that can go a long way in shielding Joe Root against the brand new ball, especially on seaming wickets.
His List A strike rate of 98.37 clearly reveals the kind of attitude he carries to the wicket. While he barely goes berserk from ball one, Bairstow catches up pretty quickly once he is set. In May 2017, in the Royal London One-Day Cup, Bairstow, opening the innings, slammed a terrific 174 off 113 balls to help Yorkshire chase down 336 against Durham.
“It's either bat there (open) or bat six when you look at the line-up we've got at the moment”, Bairstow had said after that innings. He knew that he had an outside chance of pushing Roy for the opening spot given the latter's current form and grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
On Wednesday at Old Trafford, Bairstow could afford to be fairly relaxed in his approach. England were chasing 205 in 42 overs and he was opening the innings against a directionless Windies pace attack. Not once did Bairstow flinch in his 97-ball knock that comprised of eleven hits to the boundary. He was undeterred, resolute and devoted right through the 31 overs he spent at the crease.
At the end of it all, he was rewarded with a maiden ODI hundred, one that would go a long way in sealing his spot in the limited-overs side.
The manner in which England's line-up is stacked now leaves little room for Bairstow in the middle-order. If he is to play regularly in the ODI team, it has to be at the top of the order, like on Wednesday. With just 28 ODI matches in six years, Bairstow knows all about the waiting game. But now, the ball has arrived in his court and it is upto him to nail down that opening spot for the mega event in England two years from now. He has taken the first step, a gigantic one, towards that goal in the first ODI against the West Indies.