England’s Jonny Bairstow transforms from butt of jokes into Ashes centurion | Ali Martin

In the city where his bizarre first contact with Australia’s Cameron Bancroft occurred, the England wicketkeeper used his head to score 119 and earn the Waca’s acclaim

From being the butt of the jokes in Brisbane to knocking his head against his helmet three times in celebration, Jonny Bairstow’s hundred on the second day at the Waca was not only his finest Ashes moment to date but also a touch of catharsis for England’s wicketkeeper.

Every century has meaning for Bairstow. The look to the sky – though not quite clear blue in this instance because of some morning haze – is a recurring and well understood feature of his celebrations. But after sending these thoughts upstairs, the 28-year-old also allowed himself an extra little nod to the incident that had previously defined his tour.

Was he head-butting the helmet? Or simply greeting it? After all, this is the city where his bizarre first contact with Cameron Bancroft in the Avenue bar occurred at the start of the trip, one that came back to haunt him in the first Test at the Gabba, triggered the team’s curfew and led to much of the booze-cruise narrative in the local press surrounding England’s campaign.

“It was a bit of light-hearted fun with everything that’s gone on and that’s exactly how it should be taken,” a beaming Bairstow said after stumps, before adding that the extra twist to his regular century salute was off the cuff rather than anything pre-planned.

“I have played in a few Ashes series and to score a hundred is what you dream about as a kid. It has eluded me until now and a whole heap of emotions came running through. That’s what Ashes cricket – the pinnacle of our sport – is all about.”

Prompting these emotions was an innings of substance, as one half of a record 237-run axis alongside Dawid Malan. Bairstow’s 119 – ended when Mitchell Starc detonated his middle stump amid the mayhem – will ensure his stature grows in Australia, too. As pointed out, his 11 previous Ashes Tests across three series had returned only a couple of half-centuries.

That is not to say Steve Smith’s players did not fear Bairstow before the series.They have been open in their curiosity at his previous stationing at No7, while the tactic to unsettle him with verbals at the Gabba (which, Bairstow has since hinted, may have gone beyond references to Bancroft) was testament to his two years averaging just shy of 50 in Test cricket.

But the Yorkshireman still needed a score to prove to any remaining local doubters that the slightly callow player chucked into the whirlpool of the 2013-14 whitewash is no more. In doing just that, he joined his predecessors Les Ames, Alan Knott, Jack Richards, Jack Russell and Matt Prior as an England wicketkeeper to reach three figures in an Ashes Test.

While the glovework has long since improved from four years ago, such that it barely registers a flicker of comment, it is the wonderfully uncluttered nature of his batting that marks him out as such a talent. The samurai backlift, quicksilver footwork and the dodge-dip-and-dive approach to the short ball he talks about certainly came to the fore here.

Malan lighting up the opening day with England’s first century of the series perhaps unfairly eclipsed much of Bairstow’s fine work at the other end. An unbeaten 75, having arrived at the crease with the score a perilous 131 for four and Australia’s quicks swarming, was vital to the cause and vindication for his move one place up the order.

Moeen Ali’s five centuries may still sit one more than his own tally. But in the absence of Ben Stokes, their previous deployment in Brisbane and Adelaide felt like a case of overthink by the team’s management when simply shifting everyone up a place seemed far less disruptive.

On the second day Bairstow began in a watchful manner, before he began punching holes in the Australian field. Successive boundaries creamed through cover off Pat Cummins took him to 87 – the devil’s number in these parts, given its distance from three figures – and two meaty square strikes off Mitchell Marsh among others left him one away.

Three balls later he pulled Marsh down to the long-leg boundary for the single he needed before, out of the blue, his helmet was suddenly getting the Bancroft treatment amid a standing ovation from the Perth crowd and the England dressing room.

“There’s a huge amount of pride that comes with any hundred and playing for your country. But you want to look back at the archives when you are retired and say to your kids or grandkids, you made an Ashes hundred at the Waca, away from home,” Bairstow said. The Yorkshireman has done just that, although one suspects they will be just as bemused as the rest of us when it comes to explaining the story behind the celebration.


Barney Ronay, page 14

Contributor

Ali Martin at the Waca

The GuardianTramp

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