After a breakthrough summer for Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow, Chris Waters ponders how much the talented batsman-wicketkeeper can achieve in the game over the coming years.
JONNY BAIRSTOW went into the 2011 season without a hundred to his name at first team level.
He ended it with two County Championship centuries, a hundred in the CB40 League, a ton for England Lions and the small matter of 1,917 runs in all cricket.
It was a breakthrough summer for the Yorkshire batsman, who showed himself a star-in-the-making.
The icing on the cake was applied in September, when Bairstow scored a match-winning 41 not out on his one-day international debut against India in Cardiff.
If that innings marked him down as an exceptional talent (England team director Andy Flower said he could not remember a debut so composed), it was merely a continuation of his fine work for Yorkshire.
Throughout the year, Bairstow was in tremendous form in county cricket, displaying a heady mix of skill and technique.
No bowler was safe when Bairstow was at the crease, no side immune to his dazzling strokeplay.
Throw in some highly accomplished performances with the gloves behind the stumps and it is easy to see why the 22-year-old is so well-regarded.
It was once written of Bairstow’s late father, David, that he was “Yorkshire’s fire engine”, a man of whom there was “always a sense of alarm, of bells ringing, the smell of smoke and danger”.
There is a similar air about Bairstow junior; he has a knack of creating an atmosphere of excitement.
When Bairstow scored his maiden first-class hundred against Nottinghamshire in May, converting his innings at Trent Bridge into a double century, he showed all sides of his multi-faceted game.
If the first hundred runs were predominantly elegant, with lots of sweetly-struck drives and effortless placement, the second hundred bordered on the brutal as good-length balls were muscularly dispatched.
Bairstow’s power was one of the features of his batting in 2011.
It was not the sort of power that evokes the burly blacksmith on the village green; more the sort generated by exceptional timing and natural talent.
One shot in particular emerged time after time.
It was the booming drive clubbed either through or over long-on, a shot liable to come out of the locker no matter the quality of pace or spin.
Few players, in fact, produced the stand-and-deliver cricket Bairstow played.
His season was marked by a willingness to take on any bowler in practically any situation; a characteristic that occasionally backfired but which more often than not produced standout performances.
The occasional skied shot to a fielder represented acceptable damage as Bairstow performed in positive style.
It was an attitude that helped him become the only Yorkshire player to pass 1,000 first-class runs, and which enabled him to record a remarkable 53-ball century for England against the Hyderabad Cricket Association at Hyderabad in October.
It would be folly, of course, to get carried away.
By his own admission, Bairstow has a lot to learn with bat and gloves.
More importantly, though, he is anxious to learn, keen for a long and successful career.
It is a hunger that translates itself to his mannerisms on the field; he conveys an aura of boyish enthusiasm.
Bairstow is the type of cricketer who empties bars, the type who draws spectators to the ground as surely as an offer of free admission.
He has more X-factor than ITV1 on a Saturday night.
The challenge for him now is two-fold.
First, he must be patient, for English cricket is not used to the qualities he brings to the table.
Indeed, he might already have played Test cricket but for an overly-cautious selection policy.
The second is not to get too despondent if – as inevitably happens with young players – there are peaks and troughs along the way.
Even Bairstow is not immune to a run of low scores; he cannot be expected to produce 53-ball hundreds every day of the week.
But Yorkshire and England have unearthed a treasure, a man with the capacity to thrive and entertain.
There is a ferocity to his batting but a finesse also, an ideal combination of attack and defence.
Bairstow went into 2011 with a point to prove.
He has ended it with deserved recognition from Yorkshire Post readers, who have reason to be grateful for the pleasure he has given them.