Since Jonny Bairstow injured himself in a pre match warm up, the result of which saw him sit out the 3rd ODI, T20 and first two test matches in Sri Lanka, he will have been agonising over his decision that day to participate in the fun pre-game football kickabout.
Football plays a big part in England’s warm up sessions, and the current players seem to get rather competitive in these games. They feel it goes beyond a warm up and is a fruitful source of ‘in jokes’, so important in the building of the team in the dressing room. To date, injuries sustained in pre match football which have prevented players from participating in matches have been rare. The ligament damage Bairstow sustained on this occasion set in motion a sequence of events that otherwise may have ended a career at the very moment it was looking likely to continue taking off on its staggering upward trajectory.
In the 3rd Test in Colombo, Jonny Bairstow scored his 6th Test hundred and celebrated in an interesting way. Interesting, in that his celebration was commented on in a host of different ways on radio, tv, and on social media. Was he angry, relieved, emotional, joyous or petulant? One journalist even used ‘gurning’ as a way of describing his facial expression after sweeping that single to bring up his remarkable hundred. So why the reaction that we saw on this occasion?
Consider the player. After the summer, his career was heading in a very positive direction. He had secured the role of England first choice wicket keeper and as one of the top ten batsmen in the world. His future was looking rosy, even though a number of exciting new understudy players had been included in this test squad. Then an injury sustained in an ODI warm up put him out of contention and opened the door for a young player to have an unscheduled opportunity. Very quickly, from being sure of his future in the side, a debut hundred from ‘keeper/batsman Ben Foakes and an impressive performance behind the stumps meant that literally overnight all attention had turned to the replacement Foakes as the exciting future behind the English stumps and in the middle order. A direct replacement for Bairstow, and he can play! How quickly fortunes change!
The injury Bairstow sustained might have been bad enough to keep him out of the game for months, but intensely hard work and access to the best rehabilitation meant that after just two test matches he was fit enough to be in contention for the third test match in Colombo. Over the course of the first two test matches, Bairstow had no choice but to sit and watch, helpless, as Foakes took his opportunities and impressed everyone. It is a ruthless cut-throat game at the top level, and Bairstow was now facing the reality that his career as England wicket keeper could possibly be being taken away from him right in front of his eyes. Fortunately, there has been a spot at number 3 going in the England test side. In this test, with injury to Sam Curran offering the fit again Bairstow the chance to come back into the side, he took his opportunity under great pressure, to score a magnificent hundred batting at 3.
Take into account the recent tragic loss of two of Bairstow’s friends, the relief that he had proven to himself, his teammates, the media and the wider cricketing public that England had just solved the long-running problem of a number 3. Throw in that he had just restarted his own career in a brand new role in the team. Undoubtedly, as Bairstow looked to the skies and let that roar of pure emotion pour out of him, his father and friends will have come firmly to mind. Under that pressure, after all that rehabilitation work, all that uncertainty over his future in the side, the scrutiny by the media over his ‘avoidable’ injury, the intense relief at proving himself, it is hardly surprising that the reaction we saw was as intense as it was.
Dealing with batting for hours in the searing heat of Colombo, it showed someone who cares deeply, someone who had fought his demons, someone who was responsible for single-handedly rescuing his own career. Bairstow has, in a very short period of time, managed to alter his mindset at the highest possible level from ‘keeper/batsman to number 3 batsman. What a feat that is. Just how much mental and physical strength the last few weeks must have taken out of Bairstow we can only imagine. Well, actually, we can imagine – his celebration showed it all. Good on him.