Birmingham, July 2: Jonny Bairstow came into England’s high-stakes World Cup clash against India under a bit of a cloud. Despite two half-centuries, his overall form was anything but overwhelming, the impact innings conspicuously missing. During the absence of the hamstrung Jason Roy for the three previous games, he was like the proverbial Curate’s egg, good only in parts.
He had attracted attention for all the wrong reasons for his comments against at least two former England captains, and for reportedly suggesting that people had been waiting for England to fail so that they could get on their case.
It wasn’t a great time to be Jonny Bairstow, otherwise a kind, sensitive soul. Until it suddenly became. Fortune is a fickle mistress. Often, it opts to grin maliciously at those in strife; sometimes, like on Sunday, when it chooses to place a benevolent hand on a troubled shoulder, the results can be spectacular. Like it was with Bairstow.
Reunited with a fit-again Roy, Bairstow could have been dismissed at least a half-dozen times in the first five overs by Mohammed Shami alone. Twice, he inside-edged flat-footed punches that sped off the inside-edge just past the stumps. He was beaten repeatedly, and if not for an inside-edge, would have been trapped plumb in front by one of the few full balls Shami and Jasprit Bumrah hurled at him. But once he somehow battled through that early initiation, he produced an innings for the ages, a sparkling 111 that was the bedrock around which England built their campaign-resurrecting 31-run victory.
In all, Bairstow smashed 10 fours and six sixes. Each one of his half-dozen maximums came off the wrist-spinners – Yuzvendra Chahal was hammered for four, Kuldeep Yadav taken for the rest – as he made capital of the short square boundary on one side that allowed him to slog-sweep against the turn with total impunity.
Later, after receiving the man of the match award, Bairstow credited a former Indian legend for helping him improve his game against spin. “Having been at the IPL with VVS definitely helped (deal with spinners),” he said. He didn’t elaborate, but he didn’t need to, either.
Bairstow spent nearly six weeks with VVS Laxman at Sunrisers Hyderabad this summer, feeding off the latter’s experience and expertise. Laxman was a constant presence whenever Bairstow batted at nets, with a little word here, a little tip there. Bairstow absorbed all the learnings like a sponge as he amassed 445 runs in 10 innings for his franchise. His public acknowledgement of Laxman’s hand in his success against the turning ball is commendable, especially given that Laxman’s modesty will not allow him to tom-tom his contributions.
Especially but not only because of the Indian Premier League, the cricketing landscape has become the global village that Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan alluded to in an entirely different context many summers ago. The inter-connectivity of cricketing minds has triggered an unchecked exchange of information and knowledge as coaches of all ilk and nationality are happy to share their wisdom with young charges from other countries. Knowledge is a vessel that the universe must be allowed to dip into; the blurring of boundaries as coaches and players travel the globe to ply their wares has catalysed a more structured system through which wisdom is no longer the domain of just a chosen few.
I remember with great clarity former England stumper Bob Taylor working on Rahul Dravid’s glovework during India’s tour of England in 2002. Taylor had played alongside then India coach John Wright for Derbyshire, and was delighted to help out Dravid, who took to wicketkeeping with the same seriousness with which he has approached any responsibility. In this World Cup itself, soon-to-retire South African leggie Imran Tahir has been happy for Sri Lankan counterpart Jeffrey Vandersay to pick his brain.
The maturity with which such exercises are being received is a tribute to the direction in which the world is heading. It is unthinkable that 15 years back, a Pakistani cricketer (Abdul Razzaq) would have sought a fortnight’s time to turn an Indian (Hardik Pandya) into the best all-rounder in the world without attendant backlash. Bishan Bedi wasn’t everyone’s favourite for sharing his spin bowling knowledge with Pakistanis Iqbal Qasim and Tauseef Ahmed during the famous Bangalore Test of 1987, or with Englishman Monty Panesar who plotted India’s downfall alongside Graeme Swann in India in 2012-13.
Thankfully, that narrow-mindedness would appear to be a thing of the past.
(R Kaushik is a cricket writer who has followed the sport closely for nearly three decades, and is covering his seventh World Cup)