Jonny Be Bloody Brilliant

Well, I didn’t see that one coming. Did anyone? When Joe Root was caught and bowled by Trent Boult with the score on 56, I would’ve bet my left testicle that New Zealand would win. It seemed like another inevitable England collapse. But then we witnessed a miracle. And this time Ben Stokes was the supporting act rather than the main attraction.

Jonny Bairstow, take a bow. He played one of the most ridiculous Test innings by an England batsman, ever. He took his white ball mojo into the Test arena and won the game through sheer aggression. I have absolutely no idea where that innings came from after three low scores in a row.

It’s funny, isn’t it? England kept persevering with Jos Buttler, the man who replaced Bairstow as England’s keeper, in the hope that the former would eventually play a great attacking innings like this. But he never really did. One wonders what trajectory Jonny’s Test career might have taken if he’d continued in his preferred role? He was always the better red ball player.

All the stars aligned for Bairstow, and the England team in general, in this game. A crucial ingredient, I suspect, was the Trent Bridge pitch, which remained very good for batting throughout.

Conditions for easy scoring, including a lightning fast outfield, made yesterday feel like an ODI chase in some ways. And we all know that England’s players feel rather comfortable (or certainly more comfortable) in such situations. Test teams rarely make 550+ and lose – unless they’re playing at Adelaide, ahem – so in hindsight New Zealand’s first innings total was probably worth a hundred less in normal conditions. And England’s target of 298 wasn’t quite as steep as it looked – not that it was easy.

The other star of the show, of course, was Ollie Pope, whose first innings century arguable eclipsed Root’s bigger hundred because, again, it was so unexpected. I’m not quite ready to declare Pope the answer at 3, as benign pitches can hide all kinds of flaws, but I was certainly impressed by his determination and stickability. His innings wasn’t always pretty – in fact, he looked quite scratchy at times – but this lad surely has the guts, not to mention the talent, to succeed at the highest level. I really hope he goes from strength to strength now.

So England have won their first series for, erm, I can’t actually remember. Yes, there are caveats – the absence of Kyle Jamieson was crucial, as was the injury to Colin de Grandhomme at Lord’s – but these two wins were still as encouraging as they were thrilling. Whatever Brendon McCullum is putting in England’s cucumber sandwiches is working. And all those who claim that a head coach in cricket makes little difference to performances will be eating their words. Thanks heavens we’ve seen the back of the anodyne Chris Silverwood.

Whether this is just a temporary boost, like we often see with new managers in football, remains to be seen. But let’s not worry too much about that for now. Analysis can wait. I doubt Jonny Bairstow did much analysis when he was smashing the ball to all parts.

Finally, a word about Test cricket itself: games like this demonstrate that the longest form is still the best form of the game. And it’s not even close. Administrators just need to show a bit of faith and prepare the right kind of pitches. I’m not saying that every game should be high-scoring – far from it – but we need more surfaces that give cricketers the opportunity to showcase their skills. In other words, no more low, slow, dull, boring, do everything to make the game last 5 days, turgid-fests. Is that really too much to ask?

Oh, and if you think that 4-day Tests are a good idea, then I politely suggest that you get your head examined. Maybe you got hit by one of Jonny’s seven sixes?

James Morgan


  • That was fun! I like the commenter who said that Eoin Morgan should take some of the credit for England’s playing style. Plaudits for Ben Stokes in choosing to go for the win, so being prepared to risk losing.

    But, butbutbut, what won it for England on the last day was Jonny Bairstow playing a limited-overs-style innings. He was clearly the right person for that task. But realistically, how often in a Test match is that what’s required?

    We know that Jonny has in recent years been a splendid 50-over player, while his suitability for Tests these days is less clear. Yesterday doesn’t really change that. There were plenty of people before this series saying England should have picked Harry Brook at 5 in place of Jonny Bairstow. Obviously it’s impossible to know how England would have performed over the 4 innings so far with a different player. But it still might be that there are more Test matches where Brook’s strengths are of more use than Bairstow’s.

    If Jonny is really more of a limited-overs specialist these days, can England afford to keep him in the Test team just in case a situation like yesterday arises?

    Or could they wait till the toss to decide: if England are batting first, pick Brook (or whoever); if they’re batting second, pick Jonny, as a run-chase specialist? That sounds way too funky for Test cricket, but there is a certain logic to it.

    • Sadly the XI has to be finalised before the toss. My personal view is that Jonny could, maybe should, have stayed as England’s counter-attacking keeper batsman. I’d still be more than happy with that. Although it’s obviously made harder by Foakes’s emergence, who also deserves his place.

      • Ah, thanks. Because the teams only get formally announced immediately after the toss, I (wrongly) thought captains had until then to decide.

  • This was old style rip roistering, seat of the pants, Botham style Test cricket – and boy have we missed it. It was as good as any FA Cup Final, any Wimbledon face off, any Six Nations thriller. So why oh why the bloody hell is it not on terrestrial TV where old folk, middle aged folk and most importantly, young folk, who are the life blood of the game, can actually WATCH it?
    Peter Drake, teacher and cricket nut, Hexham

    • Yep, I thought that as TMS kept mentioning how great it was that it was free. Which obviously it was. And mostly I’d be working anyway, so listening rather than watching even if were available.

      But not being able to dash to a TV set for those last few overs was disappointing. Mainly because the last time an England Test team found themselves in an exciting 4th-innings run chase, that’s exactly what I did. But that was the women’s team (in their Ashes Test last year).

      • The BBC aren’t interested in having live coverage of Test Cricket because they can never predict when play will end and so causes carnage for the Schedulers more specifically, the six pm news.
        I would say England now have a very exciting and attacking 3 – 6 namely Pope, Root, YJB and Stokesy. They won’t go down wondering.

  • Superb match, one of the best I have seen in a long time. Big shout out also to Ben Foakes who has kept excellently over the last two tests.

  • Some perspective after an adrenaline-fuelled win is going to be about as popular as it was with Spinal Tap but here goes….

    Firstly, congratulations to Jonny Bairstow. That some wanted him dropped – or to be more precise, never selected in the first place – is unbelievable. When will people learn that a hundred scored abroad in adversity is the true mark of a player’s quality? It’s the same as how Stokes’ century in the “difficult winter” was undervalued. Bairstow’s patchy overall Test record is more a reflection of England’s messing him about than his quality. No.5 was where he always should have been but the place was blocked by the obsession with Stokes having to bat there – ironically it’s him becoming captain that has broken that.

    Secondly, some perspective on the opposition. NZ were a very good side but have been in decline for several years. Some points in addition to ones I’ve already made like the retirement of Taylor and Watling:
    1) NZ’s results have been poor since winning the WTC (indeed since a little before that). Their only wins have been against undercooked Asian opposition at home. They couldn’t beat Bangladesh and SA in series. They were absolutely walloped in Australia (247 runs was the closest margin of defeat).
    2) Sides in such a position need to maximise their chances – but they selected the wrong bowling attack in each match.
    3) They were denied their second best batsman in the First Test and their best batsman in the Second. They tested positive for Convid? Don’t make me laugh – did Nicholls look like he’d just been at death’s door? Funny how these positive tests don’t happen to rich home teams’ best players…. They were also denied their ‘brake’ bowler by injury and their best current bowler broke down during the match. Of course England also have some injuries but England have a much bigger pool of players to select from and it’s doubtful England’s injuries actually have weakned the team.
    4) Their attack is aging – Boult is 32, Southee 33 and Wagner 36. People will point to Anderson and Broad – but Southee has had to play 200+ T20s whereas Anderson hasn’t played 50.

    On to my biggest bugbear – the pitch. The matches have lurched from one extreme to the other. At Lord’s it seamed all over the place; here in was like the ECB’s pet white-ball pitches with very little movement and the extra bounce just pinged it off the middle of the bat. This was essentially Test cricket for those who don’t like Test cricket and would rather watch the Hundred. Believe me, I’m not a Puritan who wants teams crawling along at 2 RPO and the ball dying on the bottom of the bat – but I would like to feel bowlers of all types had something to work with. It’s why I stopped watching after Day One. Is a pitch where teams score 250-400 so difficult to produce? The thing about Botham in 1981 is he had to transcend very tricky conditions at Headingley and OT (and if the latter was less tricky that’s off-set by needing less good fortune in that innings – just the one very difficult dropped catch).

    One parallel that might be apt with 1981 is that in hindsight the result might have done England no long term good. Lees and Pope are still not the answers where they are but their berthes are booked for some time now. I’m afraid time might be up for Jack Leach though – Liew quoted evidence that he’s get faster, shorter and flatter every year he’s been playing. It’s sad that he’s finally got a set-up that seems determined to trust him just after the previous one ruined him. It’s probably time to have an extended look at Parkinson.

    Finally, all those who blamed the English game’s structure…. well, has it changed in the meantime? Or does it just show just how out of his depth Silverwood really was?

    The acid test remains how England go abroad. England should be regularly beating the poorer teams and properly competitive in India and Australia. Put those victory laps and executive bonuses on hold until we’re at that point.

    • What? You’re suggesting players pretend to have tested positive for covid just to get out of playing? I’m pretty sure that they love playing cricket for their country (and that if they didn’t, they could just retire, rather presenting fraudulent test results).

      What does looking “like he’d just been at death’s door” have to do with anything? If you have no symptoms at all but test positive, you have to miss the test; it isn’t something you can diagnose via a TV Picture.

      Covid cases have been rising in England again in the past couple of weeks (after a period of decline). I know several people to have been unwell with it recently, so it isn’t surprising that a small proportion of cricketers would be affected — especially since all cricketers will be doing regular tests, whereas most asymptomatic people aren’t testing any more and the positive ones are carrying on oblivious to the fact they are positive, so the proportion of cricketers testing positive for covid could well be higher than that of the general population.

    • In addition to what Smylers has said…heavens above Simon, can you not apply some basic intelligence and fact-checking before coming out yet again with your infantile obsession with Covid (sorry, Convid–how we laughed; you must think you’re SO radical and intelligent and witty, you free-thinking revolutionary!)

      Nicholls tested positive thriteen days before the test and was said to be “feeling okay” by his coach the same day. He missed the test because it was felt that he hadn’t had sufficient game time to recover from an injury that had been flagged several weeks in advance of the series. Not because he had Covid.

      And as for rich home teams players not missing games–what are you on? The entire England squad was withdrawn from an entire ODI series not one year ago.

    • …and in relation to the cricketing arguments: England weren’t affected by the injury list! On which planet? The injury list includes eight of their first choice eleven seamers before the series started, including their three fastest, point-of-difference bowlers one of whom was their best bowler of the winter, their best bowler of 2021 overall, the bowler with the best home record of recent years and their most promising young red-ball seamer. Well as Potts has bowled, to say that the injury list had no effect on their performance seems….a bit out there!

      On Bairstow being messed around: I’m not convinced that where people bat in the middle oprder is nearly such a big deal as a lot of people here seem to find it, but to the extent that it is….I’m extremely sceptical that Bairstow was moved away from no. 5 mainly to accommodate Stokes: there was almost eighteen months’ gap between Bairstow stopping batting at five regularly and Stokes starting to bat there, and Bairstow had never batted at five consistently. But in any case, why wouldn’t you bat Stokes at five and Bairstow at six?: Stokes averages more at 5, although only just, and before this game Bairstow averaged over ten runs less at five than at either six or seven. Personally I prefer him at five than six if he’s not keeping, but Bairstow’s patchy test record doesn’t have anything to do with being “messed around” as far as I can see.

      I have to say too that I found your post depressing and rather sad–not because of the “perspective” (it is indeed possible to lose it after a match like this) but for the strong whiff of curmudgeonliness and bitterness it gives off. I’m sorry that such an entertaining game won by a team you seem to follow hasn’t brought you more pleasure.

  • I’ve witnessed some innings in my time (on TV of course) all against the Aussies
    Botham’s slogfest in 1981
    Nassser’s sublime double century in 1997
    KP’s barnstorming 150 at the Oval in 2005
    Stoke’s measured and gritty ton to win at Headingly in 2019
    But all of those were eclipsed yesterday by the most breathtaking inning I think I’ve ever seen by Jonny! Right from ball one the intention was there and how many batsmen outscore Stoke! Amazing!

  • Hey James,
    Both the teams were rocking in test cricket.
    Team England Player Jonny Bairstow, takes an action against Team Newzealand.
    He is back with the full swing.
    And happy to read your content.
    In Last two week I’ve been reading your blog.
    You have come out with great content.
    And it’s easier to read your article.
    Keep your passion towards writing James.
    Thanks for this content.

  • Lees, Pope, Leach and even Crawley will all be sticking around for a while now because we won’t change a winning team.

    Contrast this with the 1981 Ashes where Mike Brearley would always want to make changes that would improve the team, even when the team had won the previous test. After we won the third test at Headingley:
    – he changed the batting order for the fourth test. Dilley stayed in the squad but was always going to be left out.
    – he changed the batting order again for the 5th test. And dropped Peter Wiley for Chris Tavare and Bob Taylor for Alan Knott.
    – and for the sixth test, with the series won, he gave Gower and Gooch a rest and brought in Wayne Larkins and Paul Parker.
    On top of this, there were lots of changes in the bowling attack with Chris Old, Mike Hendrick and Paul Allot picking up injuries.

    If Brearley were still on the selection committee, Moeen and either Rory Burns or the latest Compton would be back in for Crawley and Leach in the next test. Maybe even Woakes for Potts if he’s fit.

  • I wouldn’t want to see this as a policy for every test, but on that pitch in those conditions against a depleted attack I applaud it. I do worry that we may overplay our hand if we continue in this vein, especially with such a long tail, but I guess that’s why Moin has been approached to rejoin the fray. We’ve all seen how white ball batting in tests can fail too frequently to be used as a policy, but it provided just the boost the red ball game needed. Full credit too to Notts for providing such a great cricket wicket, remember 35 wickets fell for the 1600+ runs and also the atmosphere by making the final day a freebie. Pats on the back all round.

  • As expected, a win like this is causing some people and sections of the media to mis-lay their marbles.

    Two examples:
    1) The immediate desire to give Eoin Morgan credit for the win. This is barking.
    2) Ridiculous non-comparison comparisons. This was greater than Roy Fredericks at the WACA 1975-76? Sorry – that was away from home, opening the batting, with his team under the cosh in the series, against peak Lillee-Thomson-Walker-Gilmour*, by a batsman with an old-style bat who hadn’t had a decade of T20 nor modern conditioning. Fredericks’ transformation was all the more remarkable as he had been quite a stodgy batsman – as anyone who had the misfortune to endure his laboured century at Edgbaston in 1973 could testify. Comparisons with Greenidge in 1984 are maybe more apt (players had more limited overs experience by then, the pitch was a road, the England attack quite weak, it was virtually home conditions, his team were on top in the series). Then again I’ve always rated Greenidge’s other double century in that series or a couple of innings he played in 1976 (especially the 134 at OT) more highly than his 214*.

    * Gary Gilmour’s peak was very short-lived from a combination of physical fraility below the knees and his ambition to out-drink Doug Walters. The Gilmour who played in the Centenary Test could be clattered. However in 1975-76 he was a formidible bowler as his 1975 WC and 1975-76 series figures showed bowling left-arm in-swing at Boult-like pace.

    • Re crediting Morgan, that seems reasonably logical to me except inasmuch as it doesn’t give enough credit to Stokes and McCullum. The victory came about, to state the obvious, partly because they went for the target (actually even in the first innings it’s clear from their batting that they had this kind of finish in mind). I can’t imagine the England of 2021 going for this, even with Stokes and Bairstow. One of Morgan’s contributions–and like Stokes and McCullum, he took over a team that had been very timid in its approach–was to instil the belief that anything was chaseable and should be gone for. That’s the connection, not sanything specific to test cricket–which doesn’t seem marble-mislaying at all.

      Re Fredericks, although I haven’t seen anyone mention it–I thought you thought that strike rates of 34 were good old-fashioned test cricker, not “laboured”…:-) I can’t see that that comparison is remotely relevant–and I agree that it’s fraught with danger to compare this with anything before the days of modern bats–mainly because the match situation was completely different. I think you’ve overemphasised how under the cosh they were at that point though–they were 1-0 down after one test in a six-match series.

      I assume that if you thought Fredericks at Birmingham was stodgy, then you didn’t see yesterday’s play!!


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