Having bullied opponents all season in the Indian Premier League, it will come as a wee bit of a surprise that England’s Jonny Bairstow went unsold in the auctions last year.
The skepticism shown by the franchises was understandable. Till recently, English cricketers avoided the mega bucks of the IPL like the plague barring a few exceptions such as Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan, both of whom featured in several editions.
It might also be surprising to some that not long ago Bairstow couldn’t cement his place in the England limited-overs team. And that was not down to form. Following the disastrous 2015 World Cup, the English went about building batting-oriented teams for white-ball cricket. Out went the Test specialists and they packed the side with batsmen who showed a penchant for clubbing the ball over the ropes.
Those changes have paid rich dividends and England, undoubtedly, go in as one of the favourites for the 2019 World Cup. But what about Bairstow? Yes, there was never a doubt that he would make to the final-15 but the England top and the middle-order picked themselves.
He had to make do with being the backup opener to buccaneering duo of Alex Hales and Jason Roy or wait for someone to lose form in the middle-order.
Towards the end of 2017, Bairstow found another gear in his batting. He is now one of the first names on the team sheet in international colours, after a career-defining twin hundreds in five games against West Indies helped him nail down a spot. There has been no looking back since.
A chance IPL debut
But the red-haired wicketkeeper-batsman may have had to warm the bench had things gone slightly differently for Sunrisers Hyderabad. This was a franchise that already had a settled core of overseas players, especially with David Warner coming back in the team. Afghanistan duo Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi have been consistent performers. They also had the seasoned Shakib Al Hasan who can walk into their under-performing middle-order.
The big game changer, though, was captain Kane Williamson missing the first few games due to injury. A slot opened up at the top and just like what happened with England, Bairstow pounced at it. A streaky 39 against Kolkata Knight Riders helped him earn more chances in the following games.
Importantly, Warner and Bairstow’s understanding at the crease convinced the team management that they could invest in the duo; they compiled a 118-run stand in just their first outing together.
After finding his feet, the runs flowed and the records tumbled. Such has been their form that there are murmurs – irrespective of where the 2016 champions finish this season – of Warner and Bairstow making a strong case for being the most destructive opening pair in the tournament’s history.
“He’s a great bloke to bat with,” Bairstow said about Warner after his match-winning unbeaten 80 against Kolkata Knight Riders. “We run well between the wickets. When he gets off to start like that, it’s just a case of giving him the strike.”
The almost telepathic coordination between an established Australian and an Englishman has intrigued the cricket world. Keeping in mind the bitter rivalry the two nations share, they might have, at some point been involved in a war of words during a high-intensity contest while representing their countries.
Bairstow and Warner have, to their credit, leave it all behind and managed to put together the highest-ever opening stand (185) and the highest runs tally by openers in a single season of IPL (733).
A big loss looming
As for their wins, Bairstow and Warner have invariably set the tone with the former hammering 445 runs at 63.57. Those runs have come at a rapid strike-rate of 158.36 and he stands only behind Warner in the scoring charts.
As far as defeats go, Hyderabad’s aforementioned middle-order woes have impeded them. This will be a trend that Williamson’s side need to buck soon.
But the bigger setback is that Bairstow has just one more game to play before leaving for England duties. The match against CSK in Chennai will be his last of the season.
Not only will they not only have to shuffle the batting order at the top, but hope that Warner is supported down the order. The English players leaving at the start of their season could perhaps be the reason why IPL franchises are cautious before signing them on. Rajasthan Royals will also be dented with the in-form Jos Buttler and all-rounder Ben Stokes bidding their goodbyes. Royal Challengers Bangalore will also lose a key member in Moeen Ali.
“I’ve been living every bit of it in my first IPL and hopefully I’ll be back,” said Bairstow. There is little doubt that he will be welcomed back with open arms by the Hyderabad management. He has taken his chances with aplomb – as it has been a recurring theme through his career. Against KKR, KC Cariappa dropped a sitter at deep cover during the powerplay and the 29-year-old made merry.
If he can manage to forge a similar run with Jason Roy at the top of the English batting order, the World Cup hosts stand every chance of winning the tournament for the first time. As for Sunrisers Hyderabad, they have plenty to ponder as they prepare for life after Bairstow.