Chris Waters: Jonny Bairstow’s knock a moving tribute to his late father

England's Jonny Bairstow, centre, reacts after making his century. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)
England's Jonny Bairstow, centre, reacts after making his century. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)
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THE first week of January will always hold painful memories for the Bairstow family.

It was on January 5 1998 that David Bairstow was found hanged at his home at the age of 46, a death that stunned the cricketing world.

One of Yorkshire and England’s most popular players, Bairstow had been suffering with depression.

Such was his natural zest for life, obituaries poignantly referred to his “unquenchable spirit”, a tribute to a man who will always be missed.

That spirit lives on in his son, Jonny, who fittingly chose the first week of January to score his maiden Test hundred yesterday against South Africa.

It was a moment filled with the type of raw emotion that only Jonny himself could truly comprehend, but one to which everyone watching could well relate.

No sooner had he sent a ball from Stiaan van Zyl to the backward-point boundary to bring up the milestone than Bairstow let out a primeval cry and raised his hands and head to the heavens in triumph.

Somewhere beyond the clear blue sky, David was surely looking down with pride – no doubt from the comfort of a celestial bar, quipped widow Janet, who was at the Cape Town ground with daughter, Becky.

The tragedy which shattered their family has been so well documented that triumphs such as this seem communally special.

No one watching yesterday – either at the Newlands venue or on television – could fail to have been moved as Bairstow ended his long wait for a Test hundred, more than three-and-a-half years after his debut.

He suffered another blow last summer when his grandfather died – indeed, Bairstow dedicated England’s 3-2 one-day series win over New Zealand to his memory, a win which he himself clinched with a brilliant, unbeaten 83 in the deciding game at Chester-le-Street.

When he lifted his gaze skywards yesterday, took off his helmet and kissed the Three Lions badge before palpably fighting back tears, “that was for his dad, grandad, and all sorts of different reasons,” said Janet, who works as a cricket administrator at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

Janet and Becky have followed every step of Jonny’s career, and the family is extremely close-knit.

“I’ve still got sweaty palms,” said Janet last night. “He knew where we were (in the ground), and when he got his hundred, he turned round and pointed at us. That was a special moment. He’s worked really hard, and he deserves it.”

Bairstow’s hard work cannot be questioned.

It took him 37 innings and 22 Tests to finally get that first hundred, echoing the battle he overcame at the start of his first-class career to achieve a three-figure score.

After making his Yorkshire debut in 2009, Bairstow hit 17 fifties before his maiden hundred at Trent Bridge in May 2011 in his 34th match and 59th innings.

As if to emphasise he had got the monkey off his back, he turned that innings into a double hundred, a feat he might have repeated yesterday had Alastair Cook not declared as soon as Bairstow reached 150, made from 191 balls with 18 fours and two sixes.

Bairstow, however, has never been selfishly concerned with personal milestones.

Indeed, another reason why the 12,000 England supporters in Cape Town, and those back home, were so pleased for him was because he has always put the team’s interests first.

That has been evident throughout his time at Yorkshire and was shown yesterday in the way he provided the perfect foil for 
Ben Stokes, who produced one of the truly great Test match innings.

Stokes’s 258, from just 198 deliveries with 30 fours and 11 sixes, was the second-fastest double hundred in Tests and the fastest by an Englishman, helping his side to 629-6 declared before South Africa reached 141-2 at stumps on day two.

Bairstow did not try to compete with Stokes but gave him as much strike as possible as he played the role of prominent second fiddle.

It was an example of the 26-year-old’s growing maturity.

Bairstow and Stokes had 
compiled a Test record sixth-wicket stand of 399 from 352 balls when Stokes, who at times played with Sobers-esque flair, was 
run-out by AB De Villiers from 
the same ball that de Villiers dropped him at mid-on off Kagiso Rabada.

It was a savage display by Stokes, who rightly took the bulk of plaudits, but not the breakthrough effort achieved by Bairstow.

Stokes had already come of age with two Test hundreds, but it was his team-mate who achieved that distinction here.

At last, perhaps, the criticism of Bairstow – loudest of all from Sky pundit and ex-England captain Bob Willis – will finally stop.

It was only a few weeks ago that Willis said Bairstow “hasn’t any sort of defence to play Test cricket, looks like a rabbit in the headlights and can’t bat above No 8 in an England Test team in the future”, while he also rubbished his wicketkeeping after he missed a stumping in the first Test in Durban, a game in which he more than compensated with fluent contributions of 41 and 79.

Bairstow’s family are among those who have been unable to understand such fierce criticism.

Ultimately, the brickbats only undermine Sky’s credibility, with Willis’s having long evaporated.

Willis’s glory days are well behind him but Bairstow’s, you sense, are just beginning.

Helped by the support of England coach Trevor Bayliss, who made a point of publicly backing him before this series as first-choice keeper, the Yorkshireman can continue to do his family and late father proud.