With four test match hundreds in his last four outings against New Zealand and India, there’s no doubting that Jonny Bairstow is in career best form.
England will need every ounce of his aggressive stroke-play if they are to overcome a dangerous South African outfit, and, as his combination with new captain Ben Stokes only continues to strengthen, how the pairof middle order batsmen perform in this month’s series could prove the difference.
Bairstow’s career has been somewhat of a rollercoaster ride to date, as although he has shown glimpses of brilliance on a number of occasions, he has also found himself in form slumps that have lingered for too long.
His inconsistency in the past has often been attributed to his tendency to revert back to the brand of cricket that has garnered him so much success in the Twenty20 (T20) format.
However, he largely put those criticisms to bed over the summer as his extraordinary June and July was only weeks removed from playing for the Punjab Kings in the Indian Premier League (IPL) T20 competition.
With England employing an innovative approach under the guidance of new coach Brendon McCullum, Bairstow has proven thus far that he is perfectly suited to the system which encourages and rewards assertive cricket.
In what has been coined “Bazball”, England’s rapid run rate and less than conservative approach has not only bred success for McCullum’s men, it has also provided an incredible amount of excitement that will entice the casual fan to tune in moving forward.
For those who bet on cricket, at the time of writing, England are 4/7 favourites to win their upcoming series, while underdogs South Africa are outsiders at 3/1.
Teammate and long-time friend Alex Lees spoke about Bairstow’s rich vein of form, labelling his feats as “absolutely incredible”.
“He’s an experienced cricketer,” he said.”I think the obvious thing watching him this summer and knowing Jonny for quite a long period of time now is he’s just been given the freedom to go out and express himself and just trust his natural instincts as a batter.
“And he’s been absolutely demolishing high quality attacks. He’s an absolutely unbelievable player and he’s a match winner, but also, he’s a very smart cricketer.
“Everybody will look at his strike rate over the summer and how he’s been whacking it and taking bowling attacks down, but he’s shown some real good resilience and some good batsmanship.
“In the India Test I think he was 19 off 67 balls, but because he is such a good player, he can catch up very quickly. I’ve loved watching him bat, he’s been incredible this summer and hopefully it will continue long into the rest of the year.”
Despite their great success of late, Bairstow and the remainder of the England batting line-up won’t have runs gifted to them when they take on the Proteas. If the South Africans spearhead Kagiso Rabada can overcome his niggling ankle injury and don the whites this series, the English batsmen will have to contend with one of the best and most frightening fast bowlers in the world today.
Although England are riding high off their wins over New Zealand and India and will enter this series as the bookies likely winners, cricket predictions are far from set in stone when you have a touring side as strong as the Proteas.