“SOMETIMES you’ve just got to take a minute to think and put things into perspective! #20thanniversary #481 #652 #family”.
Jonny Bairstow’s message on Instagram – alongside a picture of himself sat in private contemplation next to the boundary as he prepared to go out to keep wicket for England – was a poignant touch on day two of the Sydney Test.
It was 20 years to the day that Jonny, then eight years old, discovered his father, David, the former Yorkshire and England wicketkeeper, dead by his own hand at the family home, aged 46.
As the camera pictured Bairstow junior looking out across a sunlit Sydney Cricket Ground, sporting pads, gloves, shades and a black armband, the message was that there are more important things in life than cricket, more important things than the ostensibly trivial battle between bat and ball.
This is a poignant week for the Bairstow family but also a proud one.
The Sydney Test is Bairstow’s 50th since his debut against West Indies at Lord’s in 2012 in the week not only of his father’s death but also of his mother, Janet’s, birth.
Such coincidences have an air of predetermination – as did Bairstow’s first Test hundred in the corresponding week of 2016, when he famously lifted his head towards the clear blue sky of Cape Town in moving tribute to his late father, an innings that effectively booked his place in the national side.
Jonny, his sister, Becky, and Janet, who works as an administrator at Yorkshire CCC, are as tight as any family could be and, according to Jonny, it is because of his mother’s influence that he is where he is today – which is to say right at the very top of his game for Yorkshire and England, a credit to her resilience and fortitude.
So many milestones in sport are essentially meaningless, ten-a-penny landmarks that excite only those who wear anoraks and who salivate over such records as the highest number of leg-byes recorded in a Test innings on a Tuesday in Trinidad.
Others, such as Bairstow’s 50th Test cap, have a power made stronger by the backstory, one that still brings a tear to the eye and which Bairstow junior marked in his own special way at the SCG.
Bairstow’s 50th Test cap has a power made stronger by the backstory, one that still brings a tear to the eye and which Bairstow junior marked in his own special way at the SCG.Chris Waters
But although the backstory is tragic, it is also one in which a mother’s strength has rubbed off on a son who has had to scrap every inch of the way to reach perhaps his finest – and surely his proudest – half-century.
For success has not come to Bairstow in a nice easy straight line, with barely a ripple on an otherwise tranquil sea, but in the face of criticism – both of his batting and wicketkeeping – that must make success all the sweeter for a man halfway to his cherished dream of winning 100 Test caps and more.
That criticism surfaced almost as soon as Bairstow emerged on the Test scene, when perceived weaknesses against the short ball had many who should really have known better pontificating that he did not have what it takes to perform at the highest level.
Bairstow found himself in-and-out of the team and effectively had to go back to square one and county cricket, adjusting his technique to embark on an orgy of run-scoring for Yorkshire that confirmed what was already quite obvious to those privileged to watch him regularly at Headingley – that here was an outstanding talent with a top international career ahead of him, if only the dunces could see it.
Grumbles about his wicketkeeping materialised when he first took the gloves for England, and Bairstow has worked particularly hard on that aspect of his game to become a top-class performer in that respect too, very much the complete all-rounder.
Other battles have included a fight to gain recognition as a one-day international player, with England having only recently wised up to his claims, like someone who only gets the joke several months after it has left the comedian’s mouth.
Perhaps appropriately for a man who has suffered such criticism, there has even been some during this milestone 50th Test, when Bairstow’s apparent decision to refuse the offer of a nightwatchman on day one in Sydney was castigated when he duly fell just before the close.
Graeme Swann, the former England off-spinner, was particularly incensed, insisting that the decision should have been taken out of Bairstow’s hands and that he should have been held back for the next day.
A personal view, however, is that people cannot have it both ways, for it was not too many weeks ago that folk were saying that Bairstow was wasted batting with the tail and perhaps played too many risky shots as a result.
To these eyes, the decision to dispense with a nightwatchman was correct and an example of a man ready to roll up his sleeves and do his job – not one prepared to pass off that responsibility on to somebody else.
Whether Bairstow can mark his special Test with a special individual performance remains to be seen, and he spent much of day two watching the broad bats of Usman Khawaja (91 not out), David Warner (56) and Steve Smith (44 not out) as Australia reached 193-2 in reply to England’s 346.
But the fact that he is enjoying a special Test at all is an achievement in itself and a credit to the strong forces that have shaped him.