After surrendering their hopes of recapturing the urn in 12 desultory days of Test cricket in Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne, Bairstow burrowed deep into his reserves of grit and determination to post the tourists’ first hundred of the series on day three in Sydney.
More than three years and 36 innings since he recorded his last three-figure score, the 32-year-old conquered a daunting set of circumstances to reach 103 not out in the final over at the SCG.
It was a super act of rebellion. Bairstow started his knock with England rocking at 36-4, faced down a ferocious attack that has left bruises on every batter who dared to take the crease and fought through a vicious 90mph blow to the right thumb that might easily have seen him retire hurt on 61.
Even the matter of moving from 99 to 100 was fraught, with the Yorkshireman squaring off against the world’s No 1 bowler, Pat Cummins, in the final over of the day.
When he carved the fourth ball to third man for four to reach his seventh Test ton, it capped an unforgettable day for Bairstow – whose efforts helped his side finish 258-7, a deficit of 158.
He said: “I’m absolutely over the moon to be really honest. It was the hardest one so far in the circumstances.
“It was tough out there and I’m really, really delighted with it. Obviously, they’ve got a very good bowling attack so it was one of those where I’m just delighted to reach three figures for England again. I’m very, very proud. It’s been a lot of hard work. You know how much this means to me.”
On a day where a handful of batters had their digits crushed by balls that reared violently, Bairstow copped the worst of the lot.
The very next ball after Ben Stokes was dismissed to end a 128-run partnership, Bairstow had his thumb pranged backwards by a ball from Cummins that sprang to life and might easily have spelled the end of his stay.
But not only did he carry on after treatment from physio Craig De Weymarn, he continued to score with abandon.
“Anyone who has been around me long enough knows that it takes quite a bit to get me off the park,” he explained.
“So, yes, it was sore but it was a decision I made to stay out there. These are the decisions that you take upon yourself. The medics can give you advice, but ultimately you’re out there playing in an Ashes Test match, a New Year’s Test match in Sydney and it’s going to take a lot to get you away from that.”
The manner of England’s defeat in the Ashes means there are likely to be changes coming in the set-up, and Bairstow is among the senior players who may have been looking over their shoulder.
That now seems unlikely and he could yet reclaim the wicketkeeping gloves after Jos Buttler continued his disappointing series with an eight-ball duck. Asked if he had started to doubt his ability to enjoy days like this, Bairstow was defiant.
“No, I didn’t. I didn’t think that because with the hard work that I’ve kept on putting in I always felt that I’ve got the ability to do it,” he said.
“That’s exactly why you keep playing and why you keep pushing and turning up every day to practice, going to each game putting your best foot forward.”
Bairstow allowed himself a moment of satisfaction as he reflected on a terse exchange with an Australian fan at the tea break, when both he and Stokes were barracked as they climbed the steps to the dressing room.
“It was just a bit of bad-mouthing from the crowd,” he said. “It would have been nice if they had been there giving it out when we walked off at the end. Unfortunately, they weren’t there and they missed the end of a fantastic day’s Test cricket.
“We’re out there trying to do our jobs. People are out enjoying a day’s cricket and unfortunately, sometimes you have people who overstep the mark. It’s important to stand up for yourselves.”