When the White Rose was looking as if it would be trampled under Durham’s feet tonight, Jonny Bairstow turned everything on its head. His 92 off 42 balls took the home side from a hopeless position to a winning one with a remarkable array of confident, easy-looking strokes that will make this incredible heist go down as one of his greatest achievements in a truly special season for his career.
A quick look at Yorkshire’s pre-match scorecard for their encounter with the Durham Jets at Headingley might have suggested to a cynic that they had decided to use the rest of the competition to give some young players a taste of first-team action to further their cricketing education. It was a Durham youngster who took the White Rose attack to school, however, as Graham Clark survived two drops to record an astonishing, match-winning 91 off 54 balls.
Firstly, Yorkshire’s ploy of opening with spin worked. Mustard hit Maxwell for four off the third ball of the match, but followed it up with a slog-sweep that fell short of the ropes and into the hands of Jack Leaning.
Josh Shaw made an impressive start to his professional career with a tight first over. Although it may not have directly sent anyone back to the dugout, he did create the pressure necessary for the second breakthrough, as Stoneman edged Maxwell high to Tim Bresnan at slip.
Paul Collingwood was dismissed when he belted Will Rhodes’ third ball to Bresnan at midwicket; his young colleague Graham Clark had just been given a life by Shaw, who lost a steepler of a chance in the floodlights and the ball thudded into the turf in front of him. The scarlet procession continued when Adil Rashid deceived Matthew Richardson, who presented him with another tame return catch.
Having first been dropped on 21, Clark was then shelled by Finch, an easier chance at long-on. He was beginning to look invincibly lucky. He had only made five runs in professional cricket before today, but he brought up his half-century off only 32 balls. Yorkshire gave away too many freebies and he batted with admirable freedom, flair and confidence.
Clark made the pitch look comfortable. Muchall, no doubt inspired by the aggression of his young colleague, charged down the wicket to Adil Rashid off the last ball of the thirteenth over. In his enthusiasm, he must have briefly forgotten the need to actually hit the ball, and Bairstow made no mistake behind the stumps.
Clark resumed his onslaught when Matthew Fisher bowled the seventeenth over. He clipped an over-pitched ball through midwicket, but also unleashed two sweetly-timed paddle shots that show perhaps there is a future for 360 degree cricket in the T20 Blast.
Bairstow was in action again near the end of the seventeenth when he took an excellent catch to get rid of Usman Arshad. That catch, however, proved almost as costly as Shaw and Finch’s drops, as it only brought John Hastings to the crease. Together, Clark and Hastings walloped the flagging teenage seamers to all parts of the ground, and their partnership of 57 off 19 balls made an improbably chase into an implausible one on a pitch that looked a little slow.
Yorkshire’s batting in the powerplay looked as delicious as the eggs in a full English – that is to say, either fried or scrambled and on toast. First, John Hastings’ day got even better when Finch lofted the first ball of Yorkshire’s reply to Scott Borthwick in the deep. Gale then perished to a tame waft to the keeper, and Lees edged through to Phil Mustard.
Durham then employed an off-side field that looked like a tightening fist. Bairstow and Maxwell were their only realistic hopes, and both showed bright signs early on. Maxwell dispatched Collingwood and Bairstow bullied Borthwick, but the leg-spinner made the breakthrough when Maxwell mistimed a pull onto his stumps for 16.
We knew that Bairstow was a special player in excellent form; tonight he touched the superhuman. Durham’s close-fisted field became a widespread palm as he smashed the bowlers to pieces. What initially looked like a defiant consolation innings simply refused to stop. Plans, lines, lengths went out of the window. Boundary fielders were rendered useless, he was hitting balls that far over the ropes. As this report was on its fifth re-write, he thumped Chris Rushworth just below the press box.
In the seventeenth over, Jack Leaning was caught off a waist-high full toss. Bairstow added six off the next two balls. He skied the next one to the moon, but when it returned to earth it was in Paul Collingwood’s hands. The 9000-strong Headingley crowd rose as one to applaud his 92 off just 42 balls. Durham were still theoretically in the game, but their bowlers looked shot and Bairstow had lifted Yorkshire to another level. Bresnan, who didn’t bowl tonight, sealed the win with two enormous sixes. Special, special, special.