Steve Patterson has hailed “phenomenal” Jonny Bairstow as one of the best limited overs opening batsmen in world cricket at present and reckons it won’t be long before he is shining again in Test Match cricket.
Yorkshire’s four-day captain has heaped praise on a 31-year-old who has only been opening the batting regularly against the white ball since the start of 2017.
He has shone for Yorkshire, is a one-day World Cup winner with England and is currently enjoying an impressive Indian Premier League campaign in the UAE with Sunrisers Hyderabad having scored 316 runs in nine innings, including a best of 97.
Bairstow’s success as a swashbuckling opener against the white ball is, says Patterson, a shining example that any young player should not close the door on a potential change of direction within their career.
Another Jonny, White Rose wicketkeeper Tattersall, falls into the same bracket having switched from a top order batsman to gloveman in recent years.
Bairstow’s move in 2017, ahead of a one-day Champions Trophy campaign on home soil, however, has come with the reward of England’s biggest limited overs achievement in the form of last year’s World Cup triumph.
As a middle order player around three-and-a-half years ago, Bairstow was finding it hard to break into England’s white ball sides – not necessarily because of form, but more the strength of who was ahead of him.
The likes of Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali were all going great guns ahead of a home Champions Trophy campaign, blocking Bairstow’s middle order path.
The most obvious way in was as an opener. But, with Jason Roy and Alex Hales as the first choice combination, even that wasn’t an easy task.
But Bairstow has never shied away from a challenge.
So, ahead of a return to Yorkshire colours for the start of the 2017 Royal London one-day Cup, he was given an opener’s berth and scored 268 runs in five innings.
The standout was a stunning 174 off 113 balls in a group win over Durham at Emerald Headingley when the Vikings chased down 336 to win by six wickets with 14 balls to spare.
“It came about because Jonny was very aware that if he was going to get in the England white ball sides, it had to be towards the top of the order,” recalled Patterson.
“He had a conversation with the club and said, ‘This is what I’d like to do, would you allow me the opportunity?’ And the club did so.
“That Durham game, he was outstanding, making a very difficult chase look pretty easy. Since then, he’s never looked back.”
Bairstow’s first foray into opening for England came in the Champions Trophy semi-final against Pakistan at Cardiff when he replaced out of form Roy. Though he only scored four in a defeat, he retained his place for a summer-ending one-day series against the West Indies and scored two hundreds.
Since then, he has formed a dominant partnership with Roy in 50-over cricket, scoring two World Cup hundreds in 2019 and has also become a regular at the top of various T20 orders.
“It’s been exciting to see how he’s gone, but also it’s interesting,” said Patterson.
“If you’d have gone back five years ago and asked me about his development, I’d have said, ‘He’ll dominate against the red ball, but he’ll have limited opportunities against the white’. But now it’s gone the other way around.
“In white ball cricket, he’s dominating and is one of the first names on any team sheet. In red ball, he’s had a few more difficulties.”
Bairstow’s change of direction in his white ball batting, coming after 27 ODI and 28 T20I appearances, should prove to any young Yorkshire cricketer that anything is possible.
“Absolutely,” said Patterson. “Jonny Tattersall is another example. He got released from Yorkshire as an opening batsman. Now, four or five years down the line, he’s now our first choice wicketkeeper and a middle order batsman.
“You have to got be able to adapt and be open to change, ‘This is what I want to do, what’s going to give me the best chance?’
“Will Fraine is another. In the 2019 summer, we needed an opening bat. He put his hand up and was willing to do that job and went out and got himself a Championship hundred (against Surrey at Scarborough).
“It just shows what success you can have if you’re willing to be adaptable.
“Jonny (Bairstow) is a bit different to most in that he can probably adapt quicker than most because of the sheer natural ability he’s got at many sports, not just cricket.”
So, is Bairstow the best limited overs opener in world cricket?
“He’s certainly up there,” continued Patterson.
“I’m sure those who have stats to hand would throw some other names in there to rival him. But, on current form, he’d be one of your first choice picks if you had a blank piece of paper. He’s just phenomenal.
“Doing it in the IPL in the UAE, which are very different conditions to what we’re used to in England – they bowl a lot of spin, etc, it doesn’t seem to have fazed him.
“I’ve been delighted for him because, with all the international stuff, he’s had a difficult summer.