ONLY Jonny Bairstow, Cameron Bancroft and those privy to the seemingly harmless high-jinks of “headbutt-gate” will know what really went on at a bar in Perth earlier in the tour.
Some of us, in truth, care even less.
But the likelihood that the episode would fire up Bairstow on the field was never in doubt to those who know him.
“Don’t be surprised if he has the series of his life,” said Yorkshire first-team coach Andrew Gale, after the Australian press and players milked Bairstow’s supposedly playful bumping of heads with Bancroft by way of an unusual, but ostensibly innocuous greeting.
On day two of the third Test in Perth, a day which Australia closed on 203-3 in reply to England’s 403, Bairstow was busy bumping his head into something else – his own batting helmet.
He did so with all the ferocity of a cat gently rubbing up against its owner’s inside leg, an indication, perhaps, of just how harmless the incident with Bancroft had really been.
As ways to celebrate your first Ashes hundred go, it was a touch of genius to go with the touch of genius that Bairstow had shown with the bat.
Whether the last laugh is on England, however, remains to be seen; the tourists were going smoothly on 368-4 when Dawid Malan (140) fell after sharing an England Ashes record fifth-wicket stand of 237 with Bairstow, the first of six wickets for 35 runs in 51 balls.
Bairstow, who made 119 before Mitchell Starc squeezed a full-length ball through his defences as he tried to whip through mid-wicket, described his innings as “my favourite hundred”.
“I have played in a few Ashes, and to score an Ashes hundred is something you dream about,” he said. “It’s eluded me until now. There were a whole heap of emotions.
As ways to celebrate your first Ashes hundred go, it was a touch of genius to go with the touch of genius that Bairstow had shown with the bat.Chris Waters
“The celebration was light-hearted fun with everything that’s gone on. That’s the way it should be taken.”
It was a celebration, of course, that included a nod to the heavens that needed no explanation.
Bairstow’s late father, David, doubtless raising a glass in the celestial bar, would have been brimming with pride along with every Englishman and Yorkshireman present at the ground or watching elsewhere.
“If he got up the order a bit, he might get a few more hundreds too,” commented an equally appreciative Geoffrey Boycott.
For now, the experiment to promote Bairstow from No.7 to No.6 has worked like a treat, although let us be in no doubt that this is a man good enough to bat in any top-four.
Not only was this Bairstow’s favourite hundred, but the best as well in the opinion of those who know a thing or two about scoring centuries.
“The pressure on the England team, at 2-0 down and with events off the field, was huge,” added Boycott. “The batsmen had failed before this innings, so to play without a blemish, a nick, a chance – he batted beautifully.”
Former England captain Michael Vaughan declared: “That was Jonny Bairstow’s best Test innings. He ducked and swayed away from the short stuff and had so much balance on the front foot. It was as good as I have seen him.”
The century was even more impressive given not just the state of the series, the position of the team (England were 131-4 when he came to the crease) and what had happened with Bancroft at the start of the tour, but also in light of the sledging that Bairstow received during the first Test.
When you know his family history, and amid circulating rumours of particularly personal comments having been directed at him by the Australians in that first game, you do hope that the line between sporting competitiveness and human decency has not been crossed.
“Some other things apart from the headbutt business were said by Australia in the middle, but what they were is staying there,” said Bairstow recently.
“We move on. Hopefully it’s gone now. I’m not making an issue of it. Only if they are said again would the matter go further.
“We just need to get on with trying to get back in this series.”
By whatever means Australia have tried to get under Bairstow’s skin, they have evidently picked on the wrong man.
Indeed, attempts to turn him into some sort of pantomime villain over the headbutt episode have been hit into the long grass by a man who is usually at his best with something to prove.
The visceral roar of Bairstow’s celebration on reaching three figures yesterday betrayed how much it meant to him and how unwise Australia were to rattle his cage.
Indeed, anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Yorkshire’s recent cricketing history could testify to the fact that Bairstow is a dangerous customer when his back is against the wall and, more pertinently, when his team is in trouble.
Bairstow could probably write the book on how to dig an innings out of difficulty; many of his finest performances have been fashioned in adversity.
At last year’s Headingley Test, when he made 140 against Sri Lanka to help England from 83-5 to 298 and an innings win, he expressed bemusement as to how this has become something of a personal trademark.
“I don’t really know, to be honest,” he said modestly.
“I can’t really put my finger on anything.
“It’s not something I go out thinking, ‘Jeez, I love these situations’, because being 400-2, I would plenty rather that every day of the week.
“I don’t know what it is. There’s just something about it, I just enjoy it.
“I don’t really think about the game or the situation too much.”