If The Complaints Relit The Fire Of Bairstow > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - When discomfort rekindled the Bairstow fire
Sportsmen and women are just straight-up weird. Once you get your head around that, a lot of what they do makes sense.
Let's talk motivation. Of course, playing a sport you love, representing your country and wanting to be the best can drive you far. But sometimes you need a little bit extra.
When NBA legend Michael Jordan was at high school in Bloomington, North Carolina he was cut from the basketball team. At 15, Jordan, a sophomore, registered an impressive 5 foot 11 inches. However, a peer in contention for a spot measured a starting 6-foot-7. With only room for one sophomore, the varsity coaches, understandably, opted for the taller of the two.
Jordan took the snub as personally as humanly possible. He rushed home in floods of tears, woke up at 4am the next morning to practice, won two Olympic golds and then six NBA championships while becoming one of the most globally recognisable sportsmen in history.
So, in 1999, when Jordan was inducted into the basketball hall of fame and given 300 tickets for friends and family, he held onto just one until he found that six-foot-seven kid who pipped him all those years ago. During his acceptance speech, Jordan urged the cameras to find the man in question, giving public thanks to a man who had no idea what he inadvertently started.
One imagines if Jonny Bairstow took a page out of Jordan's book, 299 of those tickets would be reserved for critics. Has a player had as many perceived doubters? He'd probably like to get them all in one room just for a ruckus. And given how much he enjoys stacking the odds against himself, he'd probably come out on top.
Perhaps most of the 299 were up in the Edgbaston press box which he turned to after steering his 90th ball into the leg side. Upon reaching the other end for the single that ticked over his first century of the World Cup and eighth overall in ODIs, Bairstow discarded his helmet at the non-striker's end and strolled towards the large glass-faced construction, arms raised to his sides like Randy Orton bathing in boos; Megan Rapinoe wearing a "look what you haters made me do to you" smirk; Eric Cantona sniffing the musk of his own brilliance.
Up in that box were pundits who had called him out in the last week and journalists who he feels twisted his words. Words he believed were understood to be given slightly tongue in cheek at the time.
"We had a really good around-the-table interview and then quotes get sent out and they're misinterpreted in so many ways," Bairstow explained at the end of England's 31-run win over India. "At no point have I ever said the public's not behind us. It was in a very jovial and relaxed manner. Then obviously to read the things and how it was taken was very disappointing."
Nevertheless, his comments were filed very clearly under "moaning" and fell on his teammates. Jos Buttler did his best to wave them away. But his captain Eoin Morgan admitted the two needed to chat. Naturally, one match-winning knock later, the skipper didn't mind it all that much.
"He does tend to get fired up a lot," said Morgan with a wry smile. "And that suits him, regardless of what's happened during the week. Or any week. He likes a bit of fire in his belly."
Like Jordan, Bairstow does not tick the normal way. Success, to a point, is fine. But the fuel that keeps his competitive fire burning comes from a different source. Cricketers, particularly most batsmen, are creatures of habit whose main pursuit is clarity, yet the 29-year old thrives on discomfort.
"Look, I'm not saying I want everyone to come out abusing me!" he warned. "By no means am I saying that." But there is no doubt Bairstow needs pressure on himself to thrive. Or at least seems to think he does.
It was only when people doubted his batting that he made himself Test match ready. Same with his keeping and balancing both those roles. When he injured himself playing football in Sri Lanka over the winter, he worked himself into a frenzy over some throwaway comments about whether England should be warming up in that way at all and ended up scoring a hundred in his first go at number three. And yep, there was an over-the-top celebration for that, too.
One theory was the paranoia since the defeat against Australia was just Jonny being Jonny. Stirring the pot for a bitter soup he happily consumes. The only person who needs to know there's a monster under his bed before going to sleep.
But while in the past this tactic served him well, it was a high-risk strategy when your teammates are invariably caught in the crossfire ahead of one of England's most important matches since the 2016 T20 WC final. There was frustration in the dressing room. After three defeats, two in a row and a nation fearing this was another World Cup capitulation in the offing, the bitterness of Bairstow's words when read rather than heard heaped on more pressure.
During pockets of the match, fear seemed to seep into England's play. A period in the first innings seemed cluttered: just 72 runs scored off 76 balls and three wickets falling to lead into the 45th over and curtailing the momentum up top. Joe Root, tame with the bat in this portion, shelled a simple catch off Rohit Sharma when the India vice-captain had just four of his eventual 102 runs. Even Morgan's captaincy, usually pro-active, lacked a cutting edge as Sharma and Virat Kohli built themselves a handy platform of 146-1 up to the 29th over to launch an assault at the 338 target.
But it would be foolish to mark these against Bairstow. As much as he may enjoy the niggle, his work today actually ensured those missteps were not costly.
Because it was his and Jason Roy's work - reunited after three matches apart - that ensured the slowdown in the middle did not count for much because of their opening stand of 160. Indeed, their tempo against the spinners ensured those lower down had pace on the ball to start their respective innings, which was vital when Jos Buttler came in to hit 20 from just eight balls, while Ben Stokes added heaps of gloss to his watchful beginnings to end up with 79 from 54.
The key passage of play came between overs 10 and 20 when Roy and Bairstow struck 98 runs, with Bairstow contributing 53 of them. He maintained his attack against the turning bowlers Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav right throughout his innings, striking two reverse sweeps off Chahal after reaching three figures. In his entire ODI career, Bairstow has played eight reverse sweeps. Three of them came today and all of them went for four.
So, with England keeping their World Cup hopes alive, "just" three wins away from lifting the thing in two weeks time, the all important question was levelled at Bairstow after his most important hundred in an England shirt of any colour: have you answered your critics? "Look, I'll leave them to it."
Perhaps he will. Maybe. Bairstow's suspicion of the press and those in the public eye who pass comment on his game comes from quite a complicated place. Yet, he is a Daily Telegraph columnist and has made an effort to be more media savy over the last five-to-six years. He knows the game and, as much as he laments what has happened over the last week, he is much better at manipulating the output.
You get the impression Morgan, like Michael Jordan's teammates who shared six Championships with him, would not have him any other way: "I don't mind that [Bairstow firing himself up], when he comes out and plays like that. It was certainly a match-winning knock."
So actually, for the next fortnight, embrace the critics, Jonny. Maybe even find someone for that 300th ticket. Fill the room with haters, lift those arms and take that acclaim.
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