Bairstow to the rescue in surprise recovery
Kevin who? At Headingley in the second Test the man who has dictated the cricketing headlines for the past week played a thrilling innings that wrestled the momentum back to England and ensured the series went to the third and final Test. He then suffered awful advice and paranoia and forced his team management to jettison him.
That was the end for England, or so his supporters claimed. Well, Jonny Bairstow, a fiery redhead in only his fourth Test match, stepped in for Pietersen and single-handedly kept England in this match and the series. Anything Pietersen can do, Bairstow did, not necessarily better but certainly to the great satisfaction of the knowledgeable crowd at Lord’s, his captain Andrew Strauss and team manager, Andy Flower.
It was a fantastic innings played under the most severe of pressure and scrutiny and the only shame was he failed to reach the century his courage, dedication, sheer bravado and spirit deserved.
Resuming on 72 not out he sensibly got himself back in against the old ball, as did Matt Prior. The real contest started after eight overs when the new ball was taken and this was where South Africa believed they could get a stranglehold on this match. Both innings had succumbed to 54-4 against the hard, new ball as this beautiful pitch showed it only offered assistance when the ball was at its most pristine.
As the fourth umpire brought the ball on to the pitch the game was suddenly alive, England’s number one ranking at stake and as if to remind all of its potency, Prior edged the very first as Vernon Philander offered a swinging tempter to drive.
Oh dear. Bairstow, however, remained resolute. His technique and heart had taken a thorough examination on Friday as the bowlers had sent down a withering assault of bumpers and bouncers. They knew he had struggled against the West Indies earlier in the season and in particular the short stuff from Kemar Roach. This time he stood tall, swayed well and gave as good as he got. It was thrilling cricket. Morne Morkel was blistering, Dale Steyn swift and the fielders very keen to whip up a most intimidating and noisy atmosphere around the young batsman.
He had entered to a chorus of “remember Kemar Roach” but by the end of the day he was garnering praise, most noticeably from the two men who had tried to hurt him most, Morkel and Steyn. Their decency in publicly applauding him after a hard day is testament to the confidence and class of this South African side.
And they meant it, as yesterday the bumpers and physical threat had been replaced by more considered plans. They pitched up, worked on his tendency to take balls from off-stump and hit them through the legside and treated him as a worthy adversary. Bairstow may not have got on the honours board but being treated so seriously by such a fine bowling attack as South Africa have is a bigger accolade.
It worked as well, as Morkel kept him subdued for 15 balls on 95. It would take a Buddhist monk to not get twitchy and the first fuller delivery tempted Bairstow to an injudicious shot and he was bowled. The collective groan from the crowd was the antithesis of the triumphant roar of the bowler and fielders.
The rest of the innings was a nail-biting attempt to achieve something close to parity and the tail managed it. Graeme Swann was excellent, swashbuckling and running hard for an undefeated 37 and James Anderson and Steven Finn assisted ably.
The Test and series was not going to be decided by the runs they eked out though. England need to bowl South Africa out again or the series is gone.
So the fact England sneaked a lead of six runs was irrelevant. The only thing that mattered was South African wickets and by the close of play they had three crucial ones. This match is a thriller, both sides scrapping for supremacy in NW8 for command of the ICC rankings.
Graeme Swann, the man omitted in Leeds, rekindled English hopes trapping Graeme Smith lbw. The South African openers had blunted the initial thrusts but the DRS review system makes the sweep shot highly risky and Swann benefited. From the very start this match has had a wonderful ebb and flow and when Alviro Petersen was lbw to Stuart Broad, falling slightly to the offside to a full pitched ball the match was in the balance. Who better than Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis to steady South African nerves?
As they remained, England’s hopes were doomed but Finn finished the day winning another lbw decision against Kallis. It went to review after umpire Simon Taufel had given it but for once Kallis was wrong in his judgment.
It left South Africa desperately hanging on as the shadows lengthened, Steyn blocking, taking some of his own punishment as Finn rapped him on the gloves and the lead only 139.
Both sides can win this match, both sides can be No.1 in the world and both sides are showing why they are the best two in the world.
It really should have been a five-match series. In a glorious summer of sport the cricket fan has been short-changed by the administrators. At least they can celebrate the emergence of Bairstow though. Kevin who? Exactly.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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