Jonny Bairstow saluted the return of England’s travelling supporters and reiterated his passion for Test cricket after a sublime unbeaten century delivered a telling fightback in Antigua.
The Yorkshireman walked off the field at stumps on day one of the first Test against West Indies with 109 not out from 216 balls against his name and England 286 for six following a rocky start to their Caribbean tour.
Joe Root’s tourists had slumped to 48 for four in the morning session but in front of 5,000 supporters – the first overseas horde for an England Test match since the start of the pandemic – Bairstow’s second century of the winter provided a foothold.
“It feels amazing,” said Bairstow, who after a watchful start bludgeoned 17 fours for his eighth Test century and put on a crucial stand of 99 with Ben Foakes for the sixth wicket.
“I’m very passionate about playing for England and very passionate about playing Test cricket. I’m absolutely delighted, it’s been a good start to the year and hopefully that continues.
“ To score a century in any Test is amazing but here with the travelling fans who haven’t been able to come for a few years – what an occasion.”
Bairstow did not start the failed Ashes campaign and with more than 70 caps to his name at the time, many wondered if England would move on from the 32-year-old. Instead his century in Sydney, another last week in England’s tour game and this latest performance has hinted at a career now rejuvenated.
In the absence of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, and with Jos Buttler similarly dropped, Bairstow’s name has also been more heavily referenced on tour as a senior player in the squad. It is a backing the right-hander admitted to relishing as he beamed at the close of play.
He said: “Yeah, I’m really enjoying it. To give Alex Lees his cap on debut is so special having known him so well. It has a good feeling around the place at the moment. It won’t all happen right away but if we put the right things in place in order to help people perform to the best of their abilities, that’s very important.”
England’s horror morning with the bat brought memories of Australia flooding back but Bairstow stressed the mood in the dressing room felt different and put the early clatter of wickets down to a pitch that started off tacky due to moisture.
The slow surface at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium has occasional variable bounce but looks to be rewarding the harder ball in the main, with the morning session on day two now key to England setting up a convincing first innings total.
Jason Holder, fresh from immaculate figures of two for 15 from 16 overs, echoed this appraisal and the former West Indies captain gave a typically magnanimous answer when asked about Bairstow’s performance.
Holder said: “It was an excellent innings. He allowed the ball to come to him early on and then he put us under pressure when we were too wide or too straight. That’s the sign of a good player.
“If I’m being critical, we leaked too many boundaries. That’s something we need to look at. We need to make the second new ball count, get Jonny early and put more pressure on the rest, we’ll be in the game.”