Centurion Bairstow insists ‘this is the way I’ve always been capable of playing’

Two weeks after the astonishing innings of 136 that swung the Trent Bridge Test in England’s favour, Jonny Bairstow produced another from the same thrilling mould, heaving the hosts from the brink of disaster to end the day 264 for six and in arrears by a relatively trivial 65, declaring: “This is the way that I’ve always been capable of playing.”

Bairstow ended the second day unbeaten on 130, having compiled a wild partnership of 209 off 223 balls with the debutant Jamie Overton, every run met with a roar by raucous fans at his home ground. There has been much talk of England’s full-bore positivity under their new coach, Brendon McCullum, and the captaincy of Ben Stokes. Its long-term impact remains to be seen but Bairstow certainly seems a player transformed.

“I guess it’s your personality coming out,” he said. “It’s just a more relaxed me at the crease, I’m not necessarily as tense. I’ve gone back to young Jonny, where I’m watching the ball and seeing the ball. There is sometimes a lot of rubbish spoken about a lot of different things, sometimes it gets into your mind and clutters it. I have to listen to the people that matter to me and right now I am doing that. The most important thing is me being me.”

When Bairstow returned to the team towards the end of England’s miserable Ashes series it was approaching the fourth anniversary of his last Test century. He has since hit four in eight games. “Sometimes it’s a simple game that we complicate,” he said. “We’re trying to strip that complicated nature of it back, and allow people to go out and express themselves.”

The instructions Bairstow and Overton – who is also unbeaten, and 11 away from what would be only a second first-class century – received at tea demonstrated the extent to which England’s current leadership are trying to remove complications. England were 91 for six, still 238 behind and in deep peril, facing a period of the game that might very easily have decided it. “There literally wasn’t anything said,” Bairstow recalled. “‘Good luck, enjoy.’ That was literally all that was said.”

What followed was 173 runs off 174 balls, and another twist in what is turning into a thrilling Test summer. “It’s been the same thing throughout this whole series,” said Daryl Mitchell, who had earlier completed his own third century of the series to help New Zealand to a first innings total of 329. “As an onlooker I reckon it must have been a hell of a game of cricket to watch, almost like a heavyweight boxing fight the way both teams are throwing punches.”

At one stage New Zealand appeared close to a knockout blow, after Trent Boult had produced a new-ball masterclass to bowl each of England’s top three for single-digit scores. When Bairstow strode to the crease the score was 17 for three.

Root soon followed, and when Stokes joined Bairstow in the middle it was 21 for four. “Fancy doing another Trent Bridge?” the captain asked. It turned out that he did, though this time Stokes contributed only 18 before spooning a catch to Kane Williamson. Ben Foakes followed for a duck, but even at 55 for six England’s positivity remained undimmed. “There’s different ways of looking at it,” Bairstow said. “You can either go into your shell and bat the way people have done for years and years – try to survive against bowlers like Boult and Tim Southee when they’re bowling so well. But you need to transfer the momentum.”

Bairstow certainly did that, and is likely to come out swinging again on Saturday. “I’m hopefully not finished just yet,” he said. “I’ll turn up again and keep going in a similar vein. Maybe not the same vein, but a similar one.”