Jonny Bairstow on song as England tune up for ODI finale with New Zealand
• Test keeper firmly established as one-day opener in 10 months
• Eoin Morgan bullish as team prepare for Christchurch on Saturday
One of the many things England’s limited-overs side excel at is finding silver linings. Even in the manner of their defeat in the fourth one-day international, when a collapse of eight for 46 allowed New Zealand to not only chase a lesser target of 336 but also to level the series at 2-2, there were positives. Hundreds for Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow were immediate glints and now, with a decider at Hagley Oval on Saturday, comes a final in disguise.
“It’s huge,” said Bairstow when asked of the benefits of a winner-takes-all match. “If it’s not meant to be, we will learn from it and take it into the next series. The World Cup’s not tomorrow, or in two days, it’s in 16 months. This is part of the journey, it’s about getting it right for then.”
Getting it right for 2019 will include a few more wrongs in 2018. England’s failure to launch from 267 for one in the 38th over meant they relinquished all initiative in Dunedin. While they did reach 335 for nine, their highest score posted during this tour of Australia and New Zealand (only their second over 300), the fumble was enough to allow Ross Taylor’s stellar 181 not out to square the series.
The party line, laid out by the captain, Eoin Morgan, is that the 75-ball collapse was a “one-off”. England’s batting catastrophes in the last nine months – 20 for six against South Africa at Lord’s last May; eight for five in Adelaide against Australia in January – have all been confined to the top order.
Morgan’s frustration was that for the first time this tour his side “earned the right to push for a 370 score”. Of the six times England have batted first in the past nine ODIs, Dunedin was the first opportunity they had to blow a side out of the water.
Bairstow echoed his captain’s take. “It’s not happened before. From that position, we have scored 370-380. The way in which we have gone about scoring huge totals and batting teams out of the game, it’s exactly that approach. We are a fast-learning team. Going forward, the execution has to be better. To get those massive scores, playing that no-fear cricket is what is going to keep us striving to take strides forward.”
On strides forward, few have made as many as quickly as Bairstow. Out of the team last May, a first choice in March, his is a lesson in bloodymindedness driving natural talent. He has fashioned himself into a 50-over opener, initially with Yorkshire, before getting a chance with England in the semi-final of last year’s Champions Trophy.
Immovable since then, he has scored 700 runs at an average of 58 across 15 innings, leapfrogging fellow top-order team-mates Jason Roy and Alex Hales. He is also trusted to relay conditions to those down the order, something Morgan sees as one of his key strengths.
When you consider that over the past two years Bairstow has also fashioned himself into a Test-quality keeper, it is clear the 28-year-old is a man energised by the doubts of others. “I’m happy to be playing, opening the batting,” he said. “Sometimes you have to bide your time. There will be series when you don’t necessarily score a hundred or many runs. You have to try to capitalise on opportunities and I like to think I’ve done that over the last couple of years, when I got one-off opportunities. Now I have a more cemented place.”
Saturday will also mark Morgan’s 200th ODI, with his first 23 coming for Ireland before switching allegiances in 2009. Victory in his 78th match as England captain would also give the side their sixth ODI series win in succession, equalling a run put together between 2009 and 2010.