JONNY BAIRSTOW rapped out 219 reasons why he must come into serious consideration for the first Ashes Test on a record-breaking day at Chester-le-Street.
The Yorkshire batsman’s career-best 219 not out – in front of England selector James Whitaker – was a masterly display that should by rights throw England’s Ashes plans into minor turmoil.
England have pretty much settled on their squad for the opening Test against Australia at Cardiff on July 8, which is set to be announced tomorrow, with the 14 frontrunners currently on an Ashes training camp in Spain, where they are meeting new coach Trevor Bayliss.
But while those players are busy playing golf and talking tactics, in addition to topping up their suntans, Bairstow is busy back in England and not so much knocking on the door as wrenching it from its hinges.
His latest tour de force, which eclipsed his previous career-best of 205 against Notts at Trent Bridge in 2011, was his third century in eight Championship innings since returning from the West Indies tour to go with three fifties.
It lifted his aggregate in this year’s tournament to 636 runs at the Bradmanesque average of 106.
It also helped hoist Yorkshire from a sticky 191-6 on the first evening against Durham to a stately 557-6 by the time captain Andrew Gale declared at 2.55 on the second afternoon, Bairstow having added an unbroken seventh-wicket stand of 366 with Tim Bresnan, who struck a career-best 169.
Durham reached 140-5 at stumps, needing 268 more runs to avoid the follow-on against opponents who would leapfrog them at the top with victory here.
Bairstow and Bresnan’s stand, compiled over exactly five hours, broke so many records that a statistician might experience mild euphoria.
It was the highest for the seventh wicket in the history of first-class cricket in England, beating the 344 of Kumar Ranjitsinhji and Billy Newham for Sussex against Essex at Leyton in 1902.
It was third-highest for that wicket in all first-class games, behind only the 460 of Bhupinder Singh junior and Pankaj Dharmani for Punjab against Delhi at Delhi in 1995, and the 371 of Mitchell Marsh and the Yorkshire-born Sam Whiteman for Australia A against India A at Brisbane last year.
It was the fifth-highest partnership in Yorkshire’s history (the top four were all for the first wicket), the highest for any wicket against Durham, and the highest recorded at Chester-le-Street.
There were other minor milestones, but the bottom line is that it was one heck of an effort by two players in the batting form of their life.
On a warm day that alternated between the sunny and overcast, Bairstow had started again on 102 and Bresnan on 66, with Yorkshire 329-6. There was some early help for the bowlers, and Bairstow had a couple of let-offs when he chipped John Hastings just over mid-on and then flashed the same bowler at catchable height through gully, where Ryan Pringle got fingertips to the ball but could not prevent it going for four.
Other than that, it was business as before as the pair carried on from where they left off the previous night, when they had lifted their stand to 138.
Both players pulled and drove with style and power, and it was a measure of the recovery they masterminded that Yorkshire came within 22 runs of securing maximum batting points.
Bresnan went to his fifth first-class hundred – and his second of the season – from 149 balls with 16 fours, and he soon surpassed his previous career-best of 126 not out for England Lions against the Indians at Chelmsford in 2007.
Moments before lunch, Bairstow reached his 150 from 199 deliveries with 21 boundaries, and the duo went past Yorkshire’s previous best seventh-wicket stand of 254 by Wilfred Rhodes and David Burton at Dewsbury in 1919.
After the break, the pair stepped on the gas as 110 runs came in 19 overs before Gale pulled the plug.
Bresnan achieved his 150 from 228 deliveries with 28 fours, while Bairstow got to his double from 244 balls with 29 fours and a six, the maximum an extraordinary tennis-type swat over square-leg off Hastings, as if to mark the first day of Wimbledon.
Downcast and dispirited, Durham lost two wickets in the 10 overs before tea, Adil Rashid striking with his second delivery when he had Keaton Jennings caught at slip by Bresnan – who else? – and Steve Patterson inducing Mark Stoneman to chop on.
The hosts slipped to 41-3 just after the restart, Patterson trapping Paul Collingwood for a fourth-ball duck.
Michael Richardson was dropped at first slip by Alex Lees off Jack Brooks, and then by Aaron Finch at second slip off Ryan Sidebottom, before Sidebottom trapped him lbw.
Bresnan yorked Gordon Muchall with his fifth ball of the innings, leaving Durham 80-5, before Scott Borthwick and Pringle added a fighting 59.