Bairstow only arrived back in the UK a few days before the start of the series, having spent eight weeks cracking the white ball to all parts with Punjab Kings. He had not played a first-class innings since late March, on England’s tour of the Caribbean, but brought all of his skills as a limited-overs juggernaut to bear in the decisive final session in Nottingham, repeatedly and deliberately targeting the stands as a potentially tricky requirement of 160 in 38 overs was wiped off with a full 22 overs to spare.
Bairstow was in no doubt that his innings, the second-fastest hundred by an Englishman in Tests, had been squarely founded on the ability to deal with high-pressure situations that are commonplace when competing in the IPL, the most high-profile T20 league in the world.
“There was a lot of people that were saying I should not be at the IPL and I should be playing county cricket,” Bairstow said. “That’s part and parcel of the game. Decisions are decisions and if I could say what I wanted to then… But there’s also elements to it where you are playing against the best in the world at the IPL. So being able to have those gears, to be able to go and switch them up, switch them down is important.
“Yes, people say it would be fantastic if you had four games of red-ball cricket under your belt. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen in the current scheduling of everything around the world. And we’re very fortunate to be able to play in some of the best competitions against the best players in the world. So when it comes to pressure situations, the more and more you’re able to put yourself under those pressure situations, the better.
“But also I’m incredibly proud of the way in which I went about that innings, because it wasn’t just going from ball one, I was 12 off 28 balls [12 off 24] or whatever it was. It wasn’t just a case of let’s go gung-ho. It was right, pick your times, pick your moments and then try and change the game.”
Going out and trying to “change the game” has been the simple instruction from McCullum; at Lord’s, where Bairstow also came out firing with England chasing 277, the message from England’s new Test coach afterwards was, “if you’d batted like that for another 20 minutes, then you break the back of it”. And although the challenge of hauling in a target of 299 in 72 overs was ostensibly daunting on a fifth-day pitch, Bairstow said England were unfazed.
“It wasn’t too agonising – we needed four an over and that has been the rate throughout the game so if you actually break it down and go well we need four an over, then it’s very manageable and very chaseable,” he said. “We managed to chase it with 22 [overs] left which is a different commodity but it was great fun.”
The sense of enjoyment under England’s new regime has been pervasive, but Bairstow was keen to offer mitigation for the former captain, Joe Root, and coach, Chris Silverwood, saying that a factor in the sudden recent improvement – this was only their third win in 19 Tests – was a return to something like normal life following the pandemic.
“I’m excited for the next journey with Ben and Brendon, but also I’ve said numerous times we’ve also got to take into account how tough a job Joe and Chris had to deal with throughout Covid. Not having potentially the best team that they wanted to pick due to bubbles, due to different squads, due to white-ball/red-ball scheduling, everything Covid. So we’ve also got to be mindful of that. I’m extremely excited about what vision Ben and Brendon have, the way in which we’re able to go about our cricket, the enjoyment that everyone’s having on the field. But that also comes with going back to a slightly more normal way of living and way of life.”
“The amount of pride that it gives me to play Test cricket for England, first and foremost, is huge,” he said. “And then to make the contributions that have done, especially when you can say backs are against the wall, or it’s tricky periods of play, or however you guys want to write it up. I’m hugely proud of the fact that sometimes when the chips are down, you have to stand up. That might be something that you’re born with, it might be something that you have deep down that springs out of you at those moments. But yeah, me as a cricketer, that’s something I’m very proud of.”
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick