In 2016, Jonny Baistow had the Test world at his feet.
Over the course of his 17 Test Matches in that calendar year, he struck 1,470 runs at an average of 58.80 with three centuries and eight other scores of at least fifty.
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Not only did his tally of runs smash Andy Flower’s previous Test record for a wicket-keeper of 1,045 set back in 2000, but it was only 11 runs short of Michael Vaughan’s England record set in 2002. England may have lost their five-Test tour of India 4-0 but Bairstow was into the top 10 of the ICC Test batting rankings for the first time and at the age of 27, most thought he was entering the peak phase of his career.
However, that was pretty much as good as it got for him. In his 32 Tests since the end of 2016, he has averaged just 27.98 with only 10 scores of more than fifty, and with England’s Test team enjoying a successful summer – albeit behind closed doors – it came as little surprise when he lost his red-ball central contract last week for 2020-2021.
For a number of years, England seemed unsure as to who their favoured wicket-keeper was. They enjoyed a bizarre merry-go-round in which Bairstow kept wicket in Test cricket even when Jos Buttler was in the team, whereas in white-ball cricket, Buttler donned the gloves with Bairstow roaming in the outfield. Throw Ben Foakes into the mix with his player-of-the-match performances on both his Test and ODI debuts, and the whole situation could become quite complicated.
The early problems which seemed to plague Bairstow’s early Test career – being dismissed bowled when trying to open up the off-side – started to resurface. Over those 32 Tests, he was dismissed bowled on 19 separate occasions – more than anyone else in Test cricket over that same period of time. And that includes everyone – from opening batsmen to tail-enders – who are notoriously less able to protect their stumps. With Buttler’s batting form finally returning against Pakistan, it is hard to see when Bairstow’s next opportunity in five-day cricket will come.
Back in 2011, Bairstow’s full England debut came in ODI cricket against India at Cardiff. An England line-up featuring the likes of Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell were struggling at 166-4 needing another 75 runs from just 50 deliveries to win a rain-affected game when Bairstow strode to the crease to join Ravi Bopara.
He then proceeded to strike an unbeaten 41 from just 21 deliveries and England sauntered home with 10 balls to spare. Bairstow walked off with the player-of-the-match award and that performance helped propel him into the Test side the following summer.
However, despite that strong start, he was unable to make himself a permanent fixture in the ODI side, and after nearly six years as an international cricketer, he boasted just 26 ODI caps to his name, only once batting higher than number four.
However, as his Test career started to falter from the highs of 2016, opportunity came knocking in the white-ball format the following summer, and it arrived by default. England’s selectors finally lost patience with Jason Roy in the middle of the ICC Champions Trophy after a horror sequence of just 51 runs in eight innings and plumped for Bairstow at the top of the order to partner Alex Hales in the semi-final against Pakistan at Cardiff. Bairstow was untried as a white-ball opener, and had only done the job on eight occasions for Yorkshire, although that did include an innings of 174 against Durham.
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England may have lost that semi-final, but Bairstow scored 43, and followed up with a 97-ball century to help England to victory over the West Indies at Manchester in his next match. The position at the top of the order was his and he continued to go from strength to strength, striking three successive ODI centuries in 2018 before lighting up Nottingham with an innings of 139 as England piled on a world-record total of 481-6 against Australia later that summer.
In 2019, he compensated for the ignominy of being dismissed to his first delivery of the World Cup by striking centuries against India and New Zealand and helping England lift the trophy. With Alex Hales missing out this time, Bairstow was one of the first names on the team-sheet, having managed to free himself from England’s crowded ‘land grab’ for middle-order spaces in which Morgan, Root, Buttler, Billings and Stokes all jostled for attention.
Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long after he established himself at the top of England’s order that the riches of the IPL came calling. Signed by Sunrisers Hyderabad for the 2019 season for $305k, he formed a formidable opening partnership with fellow overseas star David Warner. In 10 matches for his franchise, Bairstow struck 445 runs at an average of 55.62 and a strike rate of 157.24, which eclipsed even his opening partner’s strike rate of 143.86.
Their success together continued in 2020, with a total of five century partnerships in their first 17 innings opening together in all Twenty20 cricket, including an IPL record 185 against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the 2019 competition and 160 against Kings XI Punjab this October.
At the time of writing, Bairstow has scored 3,207 runs in 83 ODIs at an average of 47.16 and a strike rate of 103.71. Guess how many players have scored more runs at a better average and a better strike-rate? None! Plenty have scored more runs, some have a higher average or strike rate, but none have managed to surpass Bairstow’s triple tally.
As a permanent fixture at the top of England’s order, he has every opportunity to go from strength to strength in the shorter forms of the game, and whereas his days as a Test cricketer may be over, his ODI returns – and his bank balance – will surely continue to go from strength to strength as a much-vaunted Twenty20 franchise player around the world.
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