Jonny Bairstow is said to have a weakness against the short ball, but his most recent performance may just prove this to be a myth. He played a fine knock and combined with Matthew Prior to balance the scales in the third and final Test between England and South Africa. ANT SIMS reports from Lord’s.
Anomalies in cricket usually mean very little, but still everybody feels the need to point them out. Friday at Lord’s was no different, as England capitulated to 54-4 after losing Andrew Strauss early on, much like Graeme Smith was sent packing early on in South Africa’s innings.
It was Morne Morkel who sent Strauss back to the pavilion for the eighth time in eleven Tests, giving the England captain the honorary title of “Morkel’s Bunny” amongst a few members of the media. There was little Strauss could do about the ball that got him out, though; Morkel was simply unplayable and the England skipper’s stumps clattered in agreement.
Wickets continued to tumble thanks to a bit of good bowling and a whole lot of bad batting from England and, much like their opposite number on day one, the hosts looked in a spot of bother at 54-4 – especially with a smidgen of inexperienced players to come in next. James Taylor was sent packing not long after walking out to the middle, but it was Jonny Bairstow who stole the show as the man from Yorkshire notched up a fine innings to help spare England’s blushes as he finished unbeaten on 72 at the close of play on day two.
There is a theory that Jonny Bairstow is susceptible to the short ball – he certainly struggled with it against the West Indies. Yet South Africa hardly threatened him with it, and while the element of surprise is often far more effective than the constant peppering of the short stuff, the visitors looked more short on ideas than finding a shorter length. There were the odd short balls fired in at Bairstow at the start of his innings, but the Yorkshireman fended off the attack, combining with Ian Bell for an irksome, but crafty, 124-run partnership. It was Vernon Philander who eventually broke the partnership, getting rid of Bell and leaving Bairstow to team up with Matthew Prior as England continued to chip away at the deficit.
Philander admitted that the short ball was certainly in South Africa’s plans, but their plan was foiled thanks to Bairstow’s resilience.
"We were always going to target Bairstow with the short ball after the series he had against the West Indies and he applied himself very well today. We'll have to make new plans tomorrow and stick to our guns again," said Philander.
For somebody who came into the England team under some pressure and on the premise of replacing their best batsman of the tour, Bairstow was absolutely faultless. He picked his shots with perfection and as his innings progressed, he blossomed into the aggressive, hard-hitting batsman that he is by reputation. Bell, who had a front-row seat for much of Bairstow’s innings, says that since his failures against the West Indies, the Yorkshireman went back to refine his craft and iron out some creases in his technique.
“Bairstow's gone back and worked hard on his method while playing for Yorkshire, and he was really fantastic. As his innings started to go on, he started to play some of the shots we know he can play from seeing him in county cricket. He did especially well against the spinner and he now needs to kick on along with Prior,” said Bell.
England still trails by 101 runs, but after having the Brits on the backfoot, South Africa might be slightly disappointed. Philander feels that the side bowled well and that they still have the edge of an upper hand.
“I don't think we've let the game slip away; the wicket is good to bat on. The guys bowled well today, but then Bairstow and Bell got in and they batted really well. I think we're in a good position; if we get another one or two wickets early on Saturday, it'll play into our hands,” said Philander.
With Bairstow and Prior at the crease, it’s unlikely that day three will be a go-slow. They’re both explosive batsmen who can crank it up when their side needs to get cracking on. Nothing but bright sunshine is expected on Saturday in London and, as Test matches go, this one is shaping up to be one heck of a contest. DM
Photo: South Africa's JP Duminy avoids a ball watched by England's Matt Prior (L) and Andrew Strauss (R) during their third test cricket match at Lord's Cricket Ground in London. REUTERS/Philip Brown