India’s last sighting of Jonny Bairstow in Tests before this series was his being dismissed for three ducks in four innings, clueless against India’s spin. Within a few days he was carting India’s limited-overs bowlers all around the new Ahmedabad stadium, carrying no scars of his Test shortcomings. That’s the life for a modern all-format batter.
Switching from Tests to white-ball action is easier though. What Bairstow is doing in the ongoing series is more creditable. One would have thought coming to a five-Test series from The Hundred, the newly launched league, as the worst possible preparation. But here he is as England’s best batsmen after run-machine Joe Root. Bairstow isn’t alone; many of these naturally attacking batsmen are creating their own space in Test cricket.
Unbeaten on six overnight with England 245 runs adrift, he put his hand up to support Root. In a 124-run partnership with his skipper, Bairstow (57) played a stellar role to help shape a solid day for England. He was promising in the Nottingham Test too, scoring 29 and 30 facing 121 balls with a lot of control. When you consider that he is one of England’s most destructive white-ball batsmen and a prolific six-hitter, it is a remarkable adjustment.
He couldn’t have done it without a method. Bairstow switched his set up from a stationary leg-stump guard, from staying slightly low in white-ball cricket to an upright stance with an off-stump guard and a back-and-across trigger. He sometimes goes further outside the stumps, but the technique gives him a better understanding of his off-stump.
Former skipper Michael Atherton, while doing TV commentary recalled his conversation with Bairstow earlier on Saturday where he spoke of the desire to succeed in Tests. “That’s a starting point,” he said. “Then one has to make the technical changes to do well.”
Bairstow isn’t the only batsman with a white-ball oriented game to impress in this series. The more successful ones have been batters in that mould. For England, it is opener Dom Sibley who is struggling. Zak Crawley and Dan Lawrence have been dropped, and Haseeb Hameed fell first ball in his first Test innings for five years. Bairstow has found form and Moeen Ali, who also came into this Test from The Hundred, got runs. Jos Buttler didn’t get many on Saturday, but his Test average at No. 6 before this innings, for his 979 runs, was 51.52.
The story is similar with India as well. Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, whose batting is more aligned to Test cricket, are searching for runs while Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja are consistently getting crucial lower-middle order runs. They have done it twice under overcast skies. In a low-scoring World Test Championship final, Jadeja 16 (49b) and Pant 41 (88b) showed resistance against New Zealand seamers on the final day before the tail folded. In the first innings at Lord’s, they scored 40 and 37 respectively to resurrect an innings undone by the middle-order.
Both adopted own styles, which gave them the best chance to succeed. Pant has also stood outside the crease and run down the wicket to unsettle the bowler. Jadeja, who knows to bat in overdrive mode in the death overs of white-ball cricket, shows greater trust in his defence.
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