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Fired-up Bairstow can add Caribbean twist to England’s World Cup defence
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Fired-up Bairstow can add Caribbean twist to England’s World Cup defence

But for a slip on the golf course, a cruel twist of fate that led to a cruel twist of a left ankle and a pretty sickening compound fracture, Jonny Bairstow might well be a fifth member of the England squad with two white-ball World Cup winners medals. As it is, the Yorkshireman goes into this T20 World Cup defence still looking to add to the 50-over title he was so central to back in 2019.

Slated to open in Australia two years ago, only for that incident on the tee to offer Alex Hales a route back in, Bairstow has now been repurposed as a firebrand No 4 after the peppy arrivals of Phil Salt and Will Jacks alongside Jos Buttler in the top three.

“I got injured and that’s part and parcel of life,” said the 34-year-old, philosophically, as England arrived in sweltering Barbados. “But I want to be a part of winning another World Cup for England. And it doesn’t matter where I bat. It’s a compliment that Jos [Buttler] and Motty [Matthew Mott] think I’ve got the skillset to bat at four.”

The logic appears sound enough, with Mott, the head coach, stating that Bairstow’s experience and flexibility – able to operate as a quasi-opener in the powerplay should early wickets fall, but also murderous against spin in the middle overs – were behind the call. In the Caribbean, where calculated six-hitting with help from the trade winds may well come to the fore, England fancy those Popeye-like forearms to be match-winning.

The question now is whether Bairstow has had his spinach – or perhaps it should be callaloo in this part of the world – after an epic winter in India. Part of England’s botched 50-over World Cup defence before Christmas, the seven-week Test tour at the start of this year and then the two-month Indian Premier League with Punjab Kings he has had a handful of nights in his own bed over the past six months. Even for a resilient character such as the man they call YJB, it can only have been draining.

Form was fleeting during this time spent living out of a suitcase, with two half-centuries in 21 innings for England and one more 50-plus score during the IPL (albeit still striking at 158). That was a jaw-dropping knock, it must be said, Bairstow moosing 108 not out from 48 balls as Punjab chased down an absurd 262 in Kolkata. Typical of the man, it came as talk of needing a breather was starting to swirl.

David Rudder, the great calypsonian, refers to his steel band as “the engine room … the soul of carnival” and in England’s T20 side, after that explosive top three, this is Bairstow at No 4 and Harry Brook at No 5. While the side is, in theory, designed to bat deep with Chris Jordan at No 8, Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone are possibly more at home higher up than their “finisher” slots at six and seven. It places greater onus on one or both Yorkshiremen being there at the death.

Jonny Bairstow bats for EnglandView image in fullscreen

A glimpse of the music they could make over the next four weeks came the night before England flew into Bridgetown, Bairstow and Brook panning out an unbroken stand of 46 from 28 balls to seal a 2-0 warm-up series win against Pakistan at the Oval (the relevance of which, given the forthcoming lurch in conditions, is up for debate). As Bairstow bluntly put it: “We want to see games through till the end.”

In contrast to Bairstow, Brook has had time at home after missing the Test tour of India because of the death of his grandmother Pauline, a long‑time supporter of his cricket. Looking fitter than ever, the 25-year-old Brook was seeing it big in the early stages of the County Championship – 388 runs at 77 and a strike-rate of 94.8 – but, while a T20 world champion two years ago, he is still to cement himself in England’s white-ball teams.

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First up at the refurbished Kensington Oval on Tuesday morning are Scotland, a tricky first set of customers in a group that also features England’s fellow seeds, Australia, as well as Oman and Namibia (now the highest-ranked associate side in the tournament). Richie Berrington’s men upset West Indies during the 2022 T20 World Cup, went unbeaten in the European qualifier last year and landed one on England the last time they met, the high-scoring ODI victory at the Grange in 2018.

“There are a lot of special memories from that day and since then we’ve come a long way as a team,” said Berrington on Saturday. “We want to go as far as we can and any game we go into we have the belief that we can win.”

In a short, sharp shootout like T20 cricket, it is entirely possible England’s engine room could be drowned out on the day by the sound of bagpipes.

Source: theguardian.com