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2022 in Review

Have we properly taken in just how great Jonny Bairstow, England’s Annihilape, was in 2022?

Jonny Bairstow, who had a stunning 2022 with the bat, in Test cricket in particular
Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 5 minute read

Let’s delve for a moment into the world of Pokémon.

Primeape was introduced in the franchise’s very first installment and quickly became a fan favourite. Not a cuddly ball of fluff or some kind of demon-clawed behemoth, its balled-up fists and permanent scowl made anger its main personality trait, with Primeape’s Pokédex entry describing it as “always outrageously furious”. But when it came to competitive battling, Primeape has rarely threatened the very top tier, packing a punch at times, but never managed to hit hard enough for long enough.

In 2022, Primeape received an upgrade. Annihilape arrived with broken chains around its ankles, its shackles literally ripped off. Instead of Primeape’s directionless anger, Annihilape channels all that fury into reaching a higher plane, a rageful state of zen. Its signature move, Rage Fist, only gets stronger the more times it has been hit. After years of mediocrity, it now stands as a monster few can clash with and live to tell the tale.

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All of which brings us to Jonny Bairstow, who reached his final form in 2022, an untouchable beast whose perma-wrath has been replaced by something all the more deadly. It’s a year which felt special while it was ongoing, and yet, somehow it still feels strangely underappreciated. Maybe that’s because of the broken leg, and the comical circumstances surrounding it, that robbed him of a go at a second world title and at breaking every calendar year batting record there is. Or perhaps it’s down to the all-encompassing Stokes-McCullum narrative that subsumes every individual story in its telling. Whatever the reason, its a tale that deserves reliving in all its glory.

Let’s go back to its start, and the point which may well go down in history sparking Bairstow’s newest evolution. Naturally, it came with a barb, a couple of Australian fans telling him to “lose some weight” as he left the field before tea at Sydney. Bairstow’s response was as brutal and to the point off the field as it was on it, with a retort of “That’s right, just turn around and walk away. Weak as piss,” followed by a first Test hundred – indeed, a first score above 60 – in over three years. England saved the game, the high point of a sorry Test winter, but Bairstow’s return was by far the more significant consequence.

This wasn’t a trademark ire-charged stroke-flurry; there was a new technical security, that straight-ball weakness eradicated overnight. And he backed it up in his next game, returning for the West Indies tour after a broken finger ruled him out of the Hobart Humbling. From 48-4, with the ball swinging and seaming, his 140 took England to 311 – Ben Foakes’ 42 was the next highest score.

And yet coming into the second innings at of the second Test, Bairstow found himself under pressure and under fire once more. He had failed to reach 30 since that first innings in the Caribbean. Harry Brook was in the kind of vein where England couldn’t not pick him for much longer. And Bairstow, 32 and without any sort of Test record in the top five, was the natural man to make way. Michael Atherton was saying it. Plenty more were thinking it. The talk off the field was of backing the players, allowing them to express themselves without fear of repercussions. But, at 93-4, another failure could have seen England pegged back to 1-1 and the temptation to twist for the decider.

It was into this swirl that Bairstow walked on that Nottingham afternoon, and he emerged as something the likes of which has never been seen before, and might never be again. All those blows, all that fire was released in a torrent across a five-innings stretch that might just be the most all-conquering, all-powerful and irresistible in Test history, Bairstow in fully-powered-up +6 attack mode, sweeping away all before him. Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, all greats of the game who have founded their nation’s proudest Test eras, and none of them could get close to him.

None of this could have happened without Trent Bridge, and so it’s right that it sits top of the pile, even if, from a contextual standpoint – flat pitch, New Zealand a bowler down – it loses a few points. It was an innings that instantly scripted its own mythology – Ben Stokes telling Bairstow, ‘Don’t hit the ball down’, the cup of coffee and ham and cheese toastie, Bairstow’s own tin of spinach. The numbers are staggering – 43 off 48 before toastie was hardly Slugma-ish, and to accelerate from there, with 93 off 44, is astonishing.

The effect on England was transformative, or at least emphatically confirmative – at the time, there were questions over whether they would go for it or hold on for a draw, or at least bed in for a bit and take stock. Now, there’s no question over the method. Needing 160 in a session with six wickets in hand, the game felt poised on a knife-edge. But Bairstow sucked all the tension out like a fart during an argument – all you could do was giggle.

That takes us to Headingley, and the truest masterpiece, England rescued from 55-6 by a Pollock-esque (Jackson, not Shaun) array of strokes, New Zealand splatted about the canvas and yet without any hint of risk. Here came the sense of Bairstow lifting his teammates, Jamie Overton carried along by the roaring red tide and delivering his own special. With boozy, boisterous Headingley in full voice, Bairstow had what he had so long deserved: a purely joyous century, one celebrated with bliss, soaked in rather than vented. Again, the importance to the McCullum regime can’t be overstated – Joe Root had done it with only minimal help at Lord’s, and at Trent Bridge there were caveats. When it was doing a bit, surely England couldn’t just hope to entertain and get away with it? Plenty of them couldn’t, but Bairstow could. The next innings, a cock-spinning unbeaten 71 off 44 to seal the chase is notable for two reasons – it stopped Root getting a hundred, Bairstow outstripping even the best England have had, and, because, as ‘worst innings in a quintet’ go, it’s sublime, the Amnesiac of an immortal stretch.

And so to Edgbaston, where India arrived to take on England for a year-postponed series decider, both sides with a new captain and travelling in opposite directions, and yet still with the tourists strong favourites. Rishabh Pant has been doing this since Bazball was a mere glint in McCullum’s eye, and he and Jadeja took India past 400. Soon enough, England were 83-5, and for once, Bairstow was keeping quiet.

He was 13 off 61 when Virat Kohli decided to get into him, and that became 13 off 62 a ball later, Bairstow aiming a booming waft and missing by a distance. Kohli laughed. The plan was working. Little did he know, the Rage Fist was powering up. Fifty-seven balls later, Bairstow had his hundred, and England were back in it.

Still, India were a way ahead, and despite a non-committal third innings, they set England a national record chase. There was a century opening stand, and then a slide of 3-2. We had seen this last summer – once India’s terriers got their teeth in with a target to defend, there was no letting go. Instead, Bairstow and Root knocked off the runs before the second new ball was available. Three of the five innings ended up in Wisden’s Test innings of 2022, including each of the top two spots.

We won’t know for a while whether this was the start of Bairstow’s imperial era. He got three more knocks in before that fateful trip to Pannal Golf Club. He’s now 33, and we don’t know what version will return when Bairstow finally regains fitness. Plenty of batters find their eye deserts them as they approach their mid-thirties – others carry on into their fifth decade. The game moves on. Already the conversations are rumbling about how exactly he will fit back in.

And even if Bairstow does resume normal service, there was nothing normal about that mid-summer madness. It bears repeating: 136 off 92 chasing 160 in a session, 162 off 157 from 55-6, 71* off 44 chasing nearly 299, 106 off 140 from 83-5, and 114* off 145 in England’s highest ever chase. There has never been a five-innings streak to compare to it in Test history. For three weeks, Bairstow was the greatest thing this sport has ever seen. Whatever comes next, he will always have that. And whatever you do, don’t make him angry.

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