Before reaching his 100th ODI, Bairstow admitted that his journey had had its ups and downs
Jonny Bairstow will win his 100th ODI cap for England when they face Bangladesh in Dharamsala on Tuesday. It’s an achievement that will make him “extremely proud” and a milestone on a journey that he admitted hasn’t always been easy: “There have been some ups and downs, right?”
In this format, a career consisted of two halves. Bairstow struggled in his first six years of ODI cricket. After his first seven appearances, he spent three years out of the team and then forced his way into the squad more often, mainly as a batsman for the first-choice side.
But since his rise to opening batting in 2017, when Jason Roy lost form in the Champions Trophy and Alex Hales was subsequently suspended for his involvement in the infamous street brawl in Bristol, Bairstow has become one of the best in the world. His strike rate of 107.34 as an ODI opener is unmatched in the history of the format.
In this light, it may come as a surprise that Bairstow has yet to reach this milestone. Six members of the England squad have made more caps in this format than he has, and his debut came in 2011 when he hit 41, not 21, to save a rainless chase against India in Cardiff: ‘I think we’ve just found a player,” said Alastair Cook, who was England’s one-day captain at the time.
Bairstow had been called into the squad the previous day along with another 21-year-old batsman, Jose Buttler. “It’s a fantastic achievement for Jonny,” reflected Jos Buttler on Monday. “He was a huge part of the one-day team for a really long period of time.
“The longevity he has shown, making 100 appearances, is fantastic. He has been one of the best openers in world cricket for a long time, 50-over cricket. He has been a great servant for us and he has a lot more to come when Well. We are delighted to have him on the team; he’s a fantastic player and his achievements show it.
Back in 2015, it was widely believed that Bairstow was out of luck in the England starting line-up in the new era of white-ball cricket, as Eoin Morgan and the team management wanted to hemorrhage a bunch of players who would feature for them at the 2019 World Cup.
“There was a period when he was out of the team and every time he got his chance, he scored runs and banged on doors to make sure he was one of the first names on the team sheet.”Jos Buttler on Jonny Bairstow
However, he was called into the squad the day before the final ODI and hit 83 not 60 balls, the first of several innings over the next two years in which he confirmed his eligibility to be included in the squad more regularly. This presented a dilemma for Morgan, who was determined to bring the consistency of selection that England often lacked and allow his regulars to develop.
Morgan is in Dharamshala this week covering the tournament as an expert. “Jonny has long been an example of how a strong cricket team should play – certainly in my early days as captain,” he said on Monday.
“You want people banging on doors and asking constant questions of the players in that eleven, simply because it should be difficult to get there and that makes selection that much more difficult. Jonny did this for about a year and a half and came in sporadically and performed brilliantly.”
Buttler added: “As he has always done, whenever he has been challenged, he has come back very strong. There was a period when he was out of the team and every time he got his chance, he scored goals and knocked down the door to make sure he is one of the first names on the team card.”
Bairstow’s partnership with Roy is undoubtedly England’s best in 50-over cricket and statistically equals the best ever. Although they played in an era that favored attacking opening batsmen, with flat pitches and two new balls, their legacy was vindicated four years ago when they helped England win their first Men’s World Cup in this format.
“Him at the top of the table with Jason Roy was just phenomenal. They complemented each other incredibly well, scoring in different areas, although they were very impressive cricketers,” Morgan said. “To play the way he did for 100 games, completely unselfishly and just getting better, it’s unbelievable.”
There was a change before the World Cup, and fitness and form contributed to Roy’s omission from England’s final squad and Dawid Malan’s promotion to opening batsman. England’s heavy defeat to New Zealand in Ahmedabad was only their third outing together and Bairstow admitted there had been a slight change in approach.
“Obviously, this change has an impact,” he said. “I have been playing with Dawid for several years. There is a change in the way he plays compared to Jason. “I don’t mean to say it’s a bad thing, but of course it will take some time to get used to the different tempos and styles.”
Bairstow has been missing runs since returning to ODI cricket at the end of the summer at home in England, with 52 in the last four innings. There were signs of him returning to form against New Zealand, however – notably when he bowled his second ball of the tournament over square leg, hitting Trent Boult.
England will hope that Bairstow’s signature moment will coincide with what will be favorable for him on Tuesday in Dharamshala. This is a game they can’t afford to lose after being beaten on opening night.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
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