@Ben_Wisden 3 minute read
When Bens Foakes and Stokes each fell in Neil Wagner’s first over of the series, it felt, at the time, like the inevitable consequence of England’s bold new approach to Test cricket.
They have promised to come out swinging, to entertain, to hit everything for six or die trying. Up until now, it had worked like a dream, with Joe Root serene at Lord’s and Jonny Bairstow ballistic at Trent Bridge. But it couldn’t be this good forever. At some point, the morning after the night before would have to come. And a few rush-of-blood collapses would be a price worth paying for reinvigorating the game’s longest format.
In walked Jamie Overton, on Test debut. He came billed as an upgrade on Matt Potts and Stuart Broad, England’s previous No.8s this series, and with an average in excess of 50 for Surrey in the County Championship this season. But he also averages just over 20 across his career, with one hundred in 115 innings. England might have hoped for a useful hand, but not a miracle.
When Overton and Jonny Bairstow walked off, a miracle was what they had concocted. They had put together England’s highest ever seventh-wicket stand, the first in their history to exceed 200. And they did it with England having lost their sixth wicket as early as they ever have done in a Test innings. Across all teams, Bairstow and Overton’s stand, currently at 209 runs, is the highest put on by a team at 100-6 or worse.
The rate at which the pair scored was also extraordinary, with the 209-run stand coming off 223 balls. Among double-century stands for England, only one has come at a higher run-rate. That also involved Bairstow, who put on 399 in 346 balls with Stokes at Cape Town in 2016.
Overton’s unbeaten 89 is already the highest by an England batter from No.8 or lower on Test debut, with New Zealand’s James Neesham in top spot, having made 137* on his bow against India in 2014. He won’t quite be able to break the record for the fastest hundred on Test debut for England, with Matt Prior toning up in 105 balls against West Indies in 2007, but he has already made history.
As for Bairstow, this was simply the continuation of an extraordinary run in 2022, which began with his Test career hanging by a thread, and written off by plenty, and now sees him as one of the most in-form, explosive batters on the planet. In a three-year span, from the start of 2019 to the end of 2021, Bairstow averaged 21.32 in 19 Tests, and failed to pass 60. He has four hundreds this year – only seven England batters have made more in a calendar year – and it’s only June. England have seven Tests left this year – one against India, and three each against South Africa and Pakistan. Bairstow’s already special year could turn into something truly historic.
Not that he hasn’t come close to breaking a few records already. Although his hundred today wasn’t quite as blistering as his century at Trent Bridge, coming off a paltry 95 balls as opposed to last week’s 77, by hitting consecutive Test hundreds off fewer than 100 balls, he joined an exclusive club populated by the game’s most explosive players, with Shahid Afridi and Brendon McCullum the other two batters with two better-than-a-run-a-ball tons in succession. As for England, Bairstow joined Ian Botham as the only two players with multiple hundreds brought up off double-digit deliveries.
Bairstow’s 2022 has been made all the more impressive with England’s top order continuing to struggle. His four centuries have seen him come in with England 36-4, 48-4, 56-3 (which became 96-4) and 17-3 (which became 21-4 and 55-6). He has become England’s crisis man and tempo-setter all in one.