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Jonny Bairstow: England batsman sets tone in Cricket World Cup


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Cricket World Cup: Watch the best of Bairstow as England book semi-final spot

Panic over, for now. As one English sporting team exit at the semi-final stage of one World Cup, a second has fought its way into the last four of another.

The knockout stages of this cricket World Cup do not technically begin until next week, yet England find themselves inadvertently ahead of the game.

A win over India when defeat would have felt terminal, now a demolition of New Zealand by 119 runs in what was effectively a quarter-final.

It is quite some turnaround on a week ago, a revival through adversity that mirrors that of their dominant batsman.

Jonny Bairstow was out for a golden duck in the shock loss to Sri Lanka and holed out for a skittery 27 as defeat followed against Australia and England’s much-vaunted campaign began to plummet at pace.

In the past four days he has now made as many World Cup centuries as England managed in 16 years from 1987.

It is characteristically Bairstow and it has come just in time. A week ago, the 29-year-old was railing against critics of his side, saying that people were waiting for them to fail so they could “jump on their throats”. In response former England skipper Michael Vaughan called that a “negative, pathetic mindset”.

A row often works for the feisty Bairstow and it has worked for his team. England have won two tosses, batted first each time and won through aggression with the bat and parsimony with the ball.

Where there was doubt there is fresh belief. The only jumping in the capacity crowd on Wednesday was up and down.

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At a warm, sun-smeared Riverside Bairstow played once again like a man jabbing his finger in your chest as his mates hold him back.

In the first over he faced from Tim Southee he crashed one four through cover off the back foot and another over point with his front foot planted down the track.

In Southee’s next over he hit three boundaries in succession – a full one drilled through mid-wicket, a lofted drive over cover and a slashing pull off his chest.

That was the muscle. Later he would finesse Colin de Grandhomme for two fours in the same over with the sort of delicate late cut that used to define an in-form Ian Bell.

Together with Jason Roy, whose return from injury has brought its own liberation, Bairstow took what had begun as a nervy affair and turned it into raucous knees-up.

England had 25 on the board after three overs and 48 by the end of the sixth. By the time Roy hit a tame catch to cover midway through the 19th, the two aggressors had stuck on 123 off 113 balls, and the plot lines were set.

“He likes a bit of fire in his belly,” Bairstow’s captain Eoin Morgan had noted after his 111 against India on Sunday.

Some batsmen at their best isolate themselves from the bedlam all around to play as if enjoying a net. Bairstow likes to bring the noise. Bairstow is bedlam.

Adversity has always brought the best from him. He is the kid who was let go by Leeds United having played in the same youth team as Danny Rose and Fabian Delph for seven years only to forge an alternative sporting career.

His first Test century took 36 innings to arrive. When he celebrated that landmark against South Africa he dwelt on the words of his critics and doubters and thought to himself, “Right, you can stick that where the sun doesn’t shine”.

His 110 in the third Test against Sri Lanka last winter came after he had been left out of the side despite recovering from injury. He has been dropped six times from the Test team and yet will be an essential component in next month’s Ashes.

Even with his county Yorkshire he had scored 19 fifties before he got his first hundred.

There is a theory from one former player close to Bairstow that as a young man, stricken by the suicide of his father David, he was occasionally given too much leeway by those around him, desperate as they were to help him through such an appalling time.

If that sounds unduly harsh there is something about the adult that can still seem at odds with the world. He is often blunt and always honest. Sometimes he can be awkward.

Not many other players would have thought it sensible to greet Australian batsman Cameron Bancroft with a headbutt before the last Ashes series down under.

That incident left him feeling misunderstood but there was no room for confusion on Wednesday.

His century came up off 95 balls with 14 fours and a six, on a ground with as distant a boundary on one side as the one at Edgbaston on Sunday had been short, and he celebrated with abandon: helmet off, arms outstretched, soaking up the cheers and the applause and retribution.

Jonny Bairstow has scored 462 runs in the World Cup – only Joe Root (500) has more for England

At that point England were 194-1 with 20 overs still to come. They never quite kicked on after he played on, driving expansively, for 106 the over after his friend and Test captain Joe Root had been caught behind, but the damage had been done.

This England team are more comfortable batting first. They like to pile on the runs and then wait for their opponents to wilt under the weight of them.

Bairstow, and his alliance with brother-in-arms Roy, allows them to do that. When he scores big runs he wounds the opposition attack and sets free the batsmen who follow to play the same attacking game.

England’s middle order struggles to fire when it is exposed early and wickets are on the board. Its batting line-up is about bullying rather than patient accumulation.

Bairstow sets the pace and sets the tone. On Wednesday he scored 46 runs more than Roy and 64 more than the next highest-scoring English batsman.

England could afford to go 56 balls without a boundary in the later part of their innings because the walls had already been breached.

Two wins on the spin, confidence beginning to flow. Even in the field England look a different team: Jos Buttler’s one-handed diving take to dismiss Martin Guptill, compared to his fumbled stumping a week ago against Australia; Adil Rashid’s one-handed pick-up-and-throw to run out Ross Taylor, when the ground fielding at Lord’s had included fumbles and over-throws.

A semi-final at Edgbaston against Australia or India awaits.

It is England’s first at a World Cup in 27 years. Long may the adversity last.

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