Yorkshire were seemingly out of it at 66-4 in the eighth over chasing 192 for victory at Headingley. But Bairstow smashed 92 from 42 balls with eight fours and four sixes to turn the game upside down and keep alive Yorkshire’s hopes of reaching the knockout stages.
His virtuoso performance, which maintained his stunning form for the county this summer, means Yorkshire could still qualify if they win three of their remaining four group games, continuing with tomorrow’s trip to Chesterfield to face Derbyshire.
Bairstow’s brilliance, which helped Yorkshire home with seven balls to spare, seemed to rub off on Jack Leaning and Tim Bresnan, who combined after Bairstow’s departure in the 18th over to put the seal on a five-wicket victory.
They added 31 from 14 balls, Bresnan winning the match with successive sixes off Usman Arshad to send the majority of a crowd of 9,536 into paroxysms of joy.
Those spectators had surely feared the worst following a stuttering start to the Yorkshire reply, which saw further failures for overseas pair Aaron Finch and Glenn Maxwell, only for Leaning to hit 39 from 31 balls and Bresnan 24 from eight to take Yorkshire home.
Perhaps the only disappointment was that Bairstow did not make a century – he thoroughly deserved what would have been his second hundred in successive seasons against Durham in T20 – but he left the crowd with memories they will treasure for a long time to come.
Just as victory was full reward for Bairstow, so it was rough justice on Durham’s Graham Clark, a 22-year-old playing only his third T20 match. Batting at No 3, Clark held the innings together with an unbeaten 91 after Durham won the toss and chose to bat on a firm pitch full of runs.
The talented right-hander, who hails from Whitehaven, struck 14 fours and a six in his 57-ball innings, which equalled Durham’s highest against Yorkshire in T20 by Phil Mustard at Chester-le-Street two years ago.
Mustard made no impact on this occasion, falling to the fourth ball of the innings when he lofted the off-spin of Maxwell to Leaning at deep mid-wicket.
Maxwell has so far proved more useful to Yorkshire as a bowler than as a batsman, and he struck again in the third over of the innings when he had Mark Stoneman caught at slip by Bresnan.
When Paul Collingwood pulled Will Rhodes tamely to Bresnan at mid-wicket, followed by Michael Richardson giving Adil Rashid catching practice off his own bowling, Durham were 49-4 in the seventh over and in some strife.
But Clark and Gordon Muchall added 56 before Muchall was smartly stumped by Bairstow off Rashid, and Yorkshire did not help themselves by thrice dropping Clark, who took full advantage.
Maxwell missed him off his own bowling early on – a tough, hard-hit chance which he actually did well to parry – and Josh Shaw spilled him on 21 at cover off Rhodes and Finch grassed him on 39 at long-on off Maxwell.
But Clark put such matters out of his mind to reach fifty from 32 balls with 10 boundaries, which reflected the fact that Yorkshire served up too many four-balls.
Matthew Fisher, the 17-year-old who has been Yorkshire’s best bowler in T20 this season, chipped in when he had Arshad brilliantly held by Bairstow, moving to his right, but both Fisher and Shaw, the latter a 19-year-old pace bowler making his first team debut, discovered that T20 can be an unforgiving theatre, and particularly so for a young bowler.
Between them, Fisher and Shaw conceded 50 runs from the last 13 balls of the innings, a period of play that threatened to cost Yorkshire before Bairstow’s intervention.
Twenty-one runs came from the penultimate over by Fisher, and 23 from the last by Shaw, which followed a six Shaw conceded off the final ball of the 18th over.
Shaw, however, deserved credit for conceding only 10 runs from his opening two overs.
John Hastings, a team-mate of Finch’s at Victoria, was the man who did most of the damage at the end, with Durham scoring more than a quarter of their total of 191-6 during that breathless period.
Hastings was stunning, striking 43 from 12 balls with five fours and three sixes on a night when Yorkshire used Bresnan purely as a batsman.
Hastings then proved his value with the ball when Finch holed out to deep mid-wicket from the opening delivery of the innings, closely followed by the dismissals of Andrew Gale and Alex Lees, who were both caught behind.
Maxwell was bowled trying to pull Scott Borthwick, but Bairstow – who eventually skied Arshad to mid-off – once again filled his boots in this summer of plenty.