Bairstow a man for all seasons
Jonny Bairstow has streamlined his abundant sporting talent to one discipline - but will still be England’s all-round action man in the opening match of their India tour.
In the absence of Craig Kieswetter, who is otherwise engaged in Somerset’s Champions League T20 campaign, England need a wicketkeeper against a Hyderabad Cricket Association XI at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium tomorrow.
Fortunately, after a season in that specialist role for Yorkshire, Bairstow is adept behind as well as in front of the stumps.
The 22-year-old demonstrated his precocious batting skills to great acclaim in a debut innings of 41 not out off 21 balls to help England beat India in the final NatWest Series one-day international at Cardiff's SWALEC Stadium last month.
But Bairstow’s skills do not end there. In fact, he spent most of his teenage years excelling at four different sports.
“I played football at Leeds United for seven years, hockey at university until two years ago for the first team at Leeds Met, and rugby (union) for Yorkshire. It was only aged about 16, 17, 18 that cricket was more in the forefront.”
Bairstow, whose late father David had to make similar choices before also keeping wicket and batting for Yorkshire and England, gradually began to sense where his greatest talents lay, although it was only a sudden change of heart that finally persuaded him.
“I think I was better at cricket. I was preparing for a ‘firsts’ game (at rugby), and something changed overnight,” he revealed. “It was almost a subconscious decision that it didn’t feel right playing rugby.”
It seems to have been a wise choice, leaving Bairstow needing only to divide his time between batting and wicketkeeping skills.
“I’ve worked really hard on my keeping with (England wicketkeeping coach) Bruce (French) in the last couple of years and feel it has definitely improved.
“Batting is something I have done all the way up, and keeping came at a later stage. It’s something I’ve had to work hard on, but I feel it is definitely improving.
“I’m pleased to be doing either. At the end of the day, you’re representing your country.”
Jonny's maiden England tour - after just one ODI and two Twenty20 internationals - is a poignant landmark for the family.
David was good enough to win four Test and 21 ODI caps for England, but he committed suicide in 1998 at the age of 46.
Jonny, who was only eight at the time, recalled: “My mum wasn’t very well, so it wasn’t easy for the family. It took a lot of hard work and effort to get everything back on track.
“We’re all pleased with the way things are going. We all pull together, and I think that has made us a lot stronger as a family.
“Without a doubt, (this tour) is a proud moment for us. Mum’s as proud as punch and really pleased that I am over here.”
As for his dad, Bairstow added: “I’m sure he’d have had some wise words to say coming out here. I hope I can keep going and keep doing the family proud.
“I have some very fond memories, fond things that people have said. He was a great character and did a lot for the game.
“I remember going out to Barbados and playing on the beach, playing on the outfield at the Oval, things like that. They are fantastic memories and something that will always be cherished.”
England's Scott Borthwick and Steven Finn are struggling with stomach upsets, although both are likely to recover in time for tomorrow.