Jonny Bairstow’s emotional Ashes century can be start of a new England chapter for the Yorkshireman

IT had to be the first week of January.

England's Jonathan Bairstow greets his century during day three of the fourth Ashes test at the Sydney Cricket Ground with a gutteral road (Picture: PA)
England's Jonathan Bairstow greets his century during day three of the fourth Ashes test at the Sydney Cricket Ground with a gutteral road (Picture: PA)

The week that carries such profound significance for the Bairstow family was, perhaps inevitably, the week that Jonny chose to remind everyone of his class as a Test match batsman.

The first week of January was the one in which his father, David, so tragically died in 1998.

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It was also the week in which his mother, Janet, was born.

Badge of honour: Jonny Bairstow celebrates his century.

It was also the week, back in 2016, when Bairstow junior scored his first Test century against South Africa in Cape Town, raising his head to the vast expanse of a clear blue sky and fighting back tears in memory of his father.

He raised his head to the heavens once more after bringing up Test century No 7 against Australia in Sydney in the final over of the third day’s play, then kissed the Three Lions badge on his helmet and broke out into a smile as wide as the Harbour Bridge.

A guttural roar towards team-mates applauding on the dressing room balcony sealed typically vivid and emotional celebrations.

At one point, the veins in Bairstow’s face looked as if they might explode beneath the flame-coloured hair and matching beard.

Emotional century: Jonny Bairstow's first for England five years ago in Cape Town. (Picture: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

But then ‘Bluey’ has always been a man who wears his heart and his passions on his sleeve.

What an innings it was from the 32-year-old Yorkshireman, a cricketer who seems so often to have to prove himself to critics and selectors.

As England scored 258-7 in reply to Australia’s 416-8, numbers which supplied a dose of reality to the match situation as the tourists look to avoid going 4-0 down with one Test to play, Bairstow kept his side in the match – just about – and gave everyone back home a much-needed boost.

When he cut Pat Cummins to the backward-point boundary with three balls remaining, the Australia captain having bowled wide to him from around the wicket to a packed offside field in an attempt to induce a rush of blood on 99, the cheers resounded from Bradford all the way to Bondi Beach.

Ouch: Jonny Bairstow reacts to being hit.

It was Bairstow’s first Test century for 38 innings and 20 games dating back to 2018; perhaps now a glorious new chapter can be written in the career of a man who still has plenty to offer at the highest level.

It was typical that Bairstow – who made 103 not out from 140 deliveries with 11 boundaries – should thrive in adversity, his own Test career on the line after he was overlooked for the first two games, his team on the ropes when he strode out with bristling purpose at 36-4.

It was tough going out there – the pitch was spicy and Bairstow was struck a painful blow on the thumb by Cummins, and was even abused for his weight by some beered-up Sydneysiders whose sledging compelled Bairstow to give them what for as he walked off at tea. Don’t mess with Jonny, chaps. Not a good move.

But Bairstow’s bat did most of the talking as he gritted it out and put his body on the line, showing all of his skill and lashing three leg-side sixes in the process: two off spinner Nathan Lyon, one off pace bowler Cameron Green.

Not out: England's Ben Stokes reacts to the ball failing to dislodge the bails after striking the stump.

He needed an accomplice with England’s position so precarious at one stage and, as in Cape Town five years ago, he found that ally in Ben Stokes, who put his own body on the line as he grimaced his way to a gutsy 66 having damaged his left side when bowling the previous day.

Five years ago, beneath the shimmering shadow of Table Mountain, Bairstow and Stokes put on a record 399 for the sixth wicket, Stokes’s 258 one of the great Test innings and Bairstow contributing 150 not out.

This time they added 128 before Stokes was trapped on the back foot leg-before to Lyon having been reprieved on 16 in the most extraordinary manner, a ball from Green striking the off stump firmly without dislodging the bails.

Such was the extent of the deflection that umpire Paul Reiffel thought that the ball must have hit something so gave Stokes out lbw, a decision quickly overturned. Even the Australian fielders saw the funny side of it – almost.

After Jos Buttler popped Cummins tamely to cover for an eighth-ball duck, his own Test career in peril although he is struggling here with a hand injury, Bairstow shared a seventh-wicket stand of 72 with Mark Wood, who lashed three leg-side sixes of his own in making 39 from 41 balls.

It took a brutish delivery to get rid of Wood, who gloved a short one that clattered into his helmet and careered out to backward-point, Jack Leach then keeping Bairstow company in the day’s closing stages.

Earlier, England’s top-order was blown away with all the predictability of night following day.

Haseeb Hameed – dropped on two by wicketkeeper Alex Carey diving in front of David Warner at first slip off Mitchell Starc – was cleaned up by Starc for six, bowled through a gap wider than the Brandenburg Gate.

Zak Crawley – dropped on seven when a tough bat/pad chance went to Marcus Harris at short-leg off Cummins – also failed to make the most of a reprieve, bowled through a slightly smaller gate when trying to drive Scott Boland.

It was the first of three wickets for no runs in five overs, Joe Root slashing Boland to Smith at second slip to depart for a seventh-ball blob and Dawid Malan tickling Green to leg slip.

At that stage, the follow-on target of 217 seemed a long-way away and England’s supporters were fearing the worst, but the brilliant Bairstow had other ideas as the series belatedly came to life.