Ben Gardner was at Headingley to witness Jonny Bairstow’s 162 at Headingley against New Zealand, second in Wisden’s Test innings of 2022.

READ: Wisden’s men’s Test Innings of the Year, No.5

Jonny Bairstow 162 (157)

England v New Zealand


June 23-27

Looking back, in the golden light of nine from 10, everything seems inevitable. But the early days of Bazball – back when we were still working out whether to capitalise or hyphenate or discard the term altogether – things really were quite fraught. Every win came with the caveat that, at some point, England would slip up. Lord’s was joyous, a winter’s decay swept away just in time to win the punters their money back, but depended on the time-worn formula of seam-bowling excellence and Rootian brilliance. Trent Bridge was ridiculous and properly felt like the start of something, but New Zealand were a bowler down and the pitch was flat. At Headingley, it takes Trent Boult one ball shy of four overs to set England on the inevitable course correction. The top three, all clean-bowled by the same bowler in one opening spell, for the first time since 1902.

Tim Southee is next, Root nicked off to leave Zak Crawley’s six as the highest score among England’s top four. Ben Stokes hits his third ball for six to overtake him, England Cricket tweeting, “We’re in the entertainment business” in an echo of their captain’s pre-match clarion call. But Stokes attempts to repeat the trick 10 balls later, and instead chips to mid-off for 18. The tweet is quietly deleted. Ben Foakes is pinned lbw in the same Neil Wagner over, even the short-ball specialist finding the swing and seam on offer to go full. England are 55-6 inside 12 overs. This, surely, is when it all comes crashing down.

The Jonny Bairstow counter-punch stalls. Balls six through nine were all hit for four, the first two off the meat and the next two off the edge. But a pull off Boult is the only other pre-tea boundary. England are 91-6 in 20 overs. Jamie Overton is on Test debut. The rest of the tail is a proper tail.

The final session of the day is dizzying delirium. It’s possible to talk through the specifics of each boundary hit, the bowlers targeted and in what manner. This was a supremely technical innings, Bairstow’s most masterful in Test cricket, a salvo almost free of falsity despite the movement available and the skill of the attack. The stats are there too, Bairstow hitting 97 runs in the final session, becoming the third player in history after Shahid Afridi and – oh – Brendon McCullum to bring up consecutive Test centuries at better than a run a ball.

But focussing on the details obscures the uniquely Headingley haze that descended on that summer evening. Being in the ground, trying to soak up every ball and come up with some sort of analysis, any kind of explanation for what was going on, you can’t help but get sucked into the moment. Laughter is the only apt response to the absurdity on show. The fours begin to flow as fast as the pints. Overton is lifted by Bairstow’s roaring tide, matching him stroke for stroke. Each shot is greeted with something approximating the ‘ole’s of a football crowd as their team is 3-0 up in the 89th minute, even as England’s position is analogous to having just pulled it back to 4-1. Bairstow returns the next morning, a few more whip-cracks soothing the hangovers and taking him past 150 and England, implausibly, into a lead.

The loudest roar of all is saved for the hundred, Bairstow’s lid removal accompanied not by a trademark roar but a wide, beaming smile. There’s no point to make or detractor to prove wrong. Instead, the glory is pure. A crowning moment in his crowning summer in front of his home crowd.