YORKSHIRE were worried how their returning England players would fare ahead of last week’s County Championship match against Hampshire.
Jonny Bairstow, Adam Lyth, Adil Rashid and Liam Plunkett were all making their first appearances of the summer having spent several weeks carrying drinks on England’s tour of the West Indies.
Yorkshire had feared that the quartet would be rustier than a rusty nail.
For while they had been busy practising their waitering skills in the Caribbean, in between endless gym and net sessions, Yorkshire had played three Championship games without their services, contriving the creditable return of a win and two draws.
As it turned out, Plunkett is still waiting for his first Championship appearance of the season after he missed the final training session ahead of the game.
Dropped by first-team coach Jason Gillespie, the pace bowler was banished to the second team and responded by smashing a century against Kent in Canterbury.
But concerns as to how the other three England players would prosper after so little cricket proved unfounded.
Lyth hit 53 and 23 in a steady display, Rashid took 4-70 and 4-48 in something a little better than steady, while Bairstow had a game to remember, scoring 102 and 59 to complement a tidy contribution behind the timbers.
The overriding memory of the match, indeed, was his first innings century, which was as good as anything he has produced for Yorkshire.
When Bairstow came to the crease on the first afternoon, the score was 109-3 and the hosts had just lost opener Lyth.
Moments later, they fell to 114-4 when they lost captain Andrew Gale too, and Hampshire were back in it after losing the toss.
But Bairstow took the game away from them in tandem with Jack Leaning, with whom he added 155 in 32 overs, before Bairstow was caught behind off pace bowler Andre Adams.
It was the style of Bairstow’s innings, rather than its size, that was so impressive. He scored his runs from 106 balls with 11 fours and three sixes, striking at a rate of 96 runs per 100 balls.
Bairstow has several times shown this capacity to up the tempo, and it has been a significant factor in Yorkshire’s success. Whether they are under the cosh or struggling for runs, Bairstow has helped them find another gear.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision (to up the pace),” said Bairstow of his 12th first-class hundred. “It was just something that happened. It’s just the way I play my cricket. I just try to play the brand of cricket that I want to play.”
That brand of cricket means Bairstow’s name is never far from England’s discussions.
The 25-year-old was always unlikely to play in the West Indies, perhaps relying more on an injury to first-choice wicketkeeper Jos Buttler than anything else, but he has the talent to be England’s No 1.
Bairstow is a splendid wicketkeeper, while he loses nothing in comparison to Buttler in terms of his ability to dominate with the bat.
“I’m not concentrating on it (England),” said Bairstow, who has played 14 Tests – the last of which came against Australia at Sydney in January last year.
“I’m back here now with Yorkshire and that’s the No 1 thing on my mind.
“I’m just concentrating on scoring as many runs and catching as many balls as possible; then, who knows?
“I can’t control what happens above, but I know that I’ll be happy scoring runs and taking catches.”
Rather than worry too much about England, Bairstow does not even take his Yorkshire place for granted.
On the contrary, with the side having coped well in the absence of their England players, and with his own understudy Andrew Hodd having performed with typical reliability, he felt he needed to make a contribution on his return to the team.
“Obviously I’ve been one of the players away with England who’s missed three games at the start of the season, but the guys have done outstandingly well while we’ve been away,” said Bairstow.
“So to come back and make a contribution is very important, because for the guys that have missed out it’s not an easy selection decision having put in the performances that they have while we’ve been away.
“I hadn’t scored a hundred for quite a while; I only got one last year, which annoyed me quite a lot, and I didn’t go on to get the runs I potentially should have done.
“So to start off this year like I have done is very pleasing.”
Despite not playing in the Tests, Bairstow insists he benefited from his time in the Caribbean.
He made one appearance on the tour, grabbing his chance with both hands as he scored 98 against a St Kitts Invitational XI in Basseterre.
“I learned a lot,” he said. “There’s lots of different aspects you can take from it – the experience of playing in different conditions, and the aspect of facing the guys that aren’t playing – we had Liam Plunkett, Mark Wood and Adil Rashid, who are all very high-quality bowlers bowling in the nets.
“I know it wasn’t in the middle, but, being faced with those challenges, day-in, day-out, is not easy, and it’s something you can bring back into your practice, into your performance, into every walk of your game when you come back into county cricket.
“That, coupled with keeping wicket, being able to work on drills and to do stood-up work in the conditions out there was also beneficial.”
Bairstow’s attitude is nothing less than positive.
England will surely come calling again.