JONNY BAIRSTOW tomorrow returns to the ground where he inspired England to a thrilling victory in the one-day international series against New Zealand, hoping this time to assist Yorkshire’s quest to win the County Championship when they play leaders Durham in a pivotal clash.
It was at the Emirates International Cricket Ground last Saturday that Bairstow scored an unbeaten 83 to help England clinch the series 3-2 in a display that highlighted his immense natural talent, not to mention his composure under pressure.
After England fell to 45-5 in pursuit of a revised target of 192 from 26 overs, Bairstow coolly led his country to a three-wicket win.
It was a performance that suggested England’s pre-Ashes training camp squad, which today heads to Spain, may well be missing a certain 25-year-old Yorkshireman.
If Bairstow does go on to play a part in the Ashes – and do not rule it out – it would be no less than he deserves on current form.
His innings at Chester-le-Street was merely a continuation of his work at county level (402 Championship runs this summer at 80.4), and his many supporters would have been particularly pleased that the magic did not desert him when he was suddenly pitched back into the England side following an injury to Jos Butter.
Instead, Bairstow grabbed his chance with both hands, having responded positively to being left out by England in recent times – not to mention having his technique picked apart by television pundits, some of whom had seemingly written him off.
They say that you find out a lot about people in adversity, and Bairstow has taken his game to another level.
Not that he would say so himself, of course.
As second-placed Yorkshire prepared to face Durham, whom they trail by nine points with a game in hand, Bairstow reflected modestly on his series-clinching innings.
“It was a huge high, obviously,” he said. “I’ve not played many one-day internationals, so to get back in the side through an unfortunate injury to Jos, and then to go out and perform like I did was really pleasing, but it was one of those days when things went my way.
“The whole atmosphere with the England lads was really good.
“The majority of them were away this winter with the Lions, and it was just like slipping back into that, and it was a no-lose situation, to be honest.”
Bairstow preferred to talk of Yorkshire than speak of himself, with this week’s match having a potentially key bearing.
Yorkshire recorded a super innings win over Notts last week that featured excellent hundreds by Andrew Gale and Jack Leaning, who shared a fourth-wicket stand of 255, and they look to be running into ominous form.
“Durham is a huge match, but, at the same time, we can’t think of it like that,” said Bairstow, who hit 95 in the corresponding game at Chester-le-Street last year and also a brilliant 102 not out there in the T20 fixture between the teams.
“We’ve just got to go out and keep doing the same things we did against Notts and try to treat it like any other game.”
Bairstow joined that match halfway through after appearing in Tuesday’s T20 international against New Zealand at Old Trafford.
He feels Yorkshire are playing some splendid stuff.
“The boys played really, really well against Notts,” he said. “Galey and Jack batted superbly to put us in a position to win the game.
“Then, to bowl a team like Notts out for 198 in their second innings in a session-and-a-half was absolutely outstanding. Massive credit must go to the bowlers, but, as I say, huge credit has to go to Galey and Jack for putting us in that position in the first place.”
Bairstow takes his place in a batting order set to feature Australian overseas player Aaron Finch for the first time in Championship cricket this summer.
Finch played his part in Yorkshire’s title last season, with 291 runs at 48.50.
“It’s a big match, and it sets up the back half of the season really well for the team that wins,” said Finch. “Obviously, we’re confident we’ll do that, and it’s going to be exciting.
“Durham are in good form, and so are we. It will be a great challenge, and we’ll have to be on top of our game.”
Jason Gillespie, the Yorkshire first-team coach, also believes his White Rose side will need to bring their A-game to beat the county that pipped them to the Championship title two years ago.
A similar shoot-out is starting to develop, and Gillespie is relishing a mouth-watering contest.
“Durham are the pacesetters and they’ve won six games,” he said.
“They’ve got an incredible record, and the way they go about their cricket is something you have to respect very highly.
“We always have great battles against them. They are a tough, hard-nosed side, and we will have to be at our very best to get anything out of the game.”