The story of this match was supposed to be about Adam Lyth securing his place at the top of England’s Test team alongside Alastair Cook. He made a solid first-innings 53, and that may well be enough to earn him a Test debut later this month. But the star turn on day one was undoubtedly played by Jonny Bairstow, who blasted 102 in a 155-run partnership with Jack Leaning to help Yorkshire out of a difficult hole on day one at Headingley.
There was an early moment of controversy as England fast bowler Liam Plunkett was deselected after missing the official photocall and final training session yesterday. He will play for the 2nd XI against Kent early next week.
Adam Lyth lost his opening partner in the third over of the day, as Alex Lees offered no shot and fell lbw to James Tomlinson for one. Number three Cheteshwar Pujara never managed to settle after being struck on the helmet by a Fidel Edwards bouncer: he survived an easy run-out chance when he drove straight to Sean Terry at point, and was put down by James Vince in the slips when he had 12 runs to his name.
He finally perished on 18, pushing forward awkwardly to James Tomlinson and gifting Sean Ervine the simplest of catches at second slip. Andre Adams struck twice after lunch to leave Yorkshire in trouble on 114-4: Lyth was caught behind two balls after reaching 50 and captain Andrew Gale popped a leading edge to Michael Carberry at mid on.
With two new batsmen at the crease, Bairstow’s first three scoring shots were all audacious and splendid boundaries, including a sweetly-timed pull for six off Fidel Edwards. Edwards hasn’t played first-class cricket since April 2014, and it showed today as his erring line and length gave the veteran England drinks-carrier some easy pickings, including another big six over the wicketkeeper’s head.
The boundaries kept coming after Bairstow reached his 50 from 45 balls: he chose his shots early and executed them flawlessly, threading the ball through tiny gaps in the field with breathtaking ease. He was unafraid of taking the aerial route as well, helping himself to three sixes and 11 fours on a day when most of the top order looked fairly tentative and reluctant to play expansive shots.
The virtues of Bairstow’s knock were too many to fit into 600 words. He was busy between the wickets, taking quick singles with confidence and pushing hard for twos and threes. His defence, on the few occasions he was called upon to use it, was solid. He left the ball decisively. It was batting of the very highest order.
It was not long before Jack Leaning was also spurred into action, inspired by his partner’s exploits. Leaning has often been characterised as an obdurate Yorkshire grinder, but he has a range of classy shots in his repertoire that he was happy to put on show as the Hampshire bowlers started to tire.
Bairstow was caught behind moments after reaching his century, and Yorkshire lost their way a bit when looking to accelerate: Rashid and Rhodes both gave soft wickets to Gareth Berg, but Leaning held the side together with great maturity. He brought up his own half-century with a guided edge off Gareth Berg, and with Tim Bresnan’s unbeaten 23 his 77* helped Yorkshire to 333-7 at stumps.
At 25, Jonny Bairstow is too young to be a forgotten man in English cricket. The rise of players like Jos Buttler and Sam Billings of Kent has threatened at times to make this the case. But Bairstow is only now approaching the height of his powers as a batsman. What sort of future he has in international cricket remains to be seen, but his present at Yorkshire is as bright as the new Headingley floodlights, which I am reliably informed are the strongest in the country.
Performances like Bairstow’s today make county cricket a truly special place.