There is no zealot like a convert, and in the dressing room at tea they could see that Bairstow was ‘on’. The “Jonny eyes” were focused, initially on a cheese and ham toastie and then on the job at hand. Bairstow is not so much a fiery character as pile of kindling looking for a match, but what he was about to do was marked by a level of control. With the cool, calm intensity of Jules Winfield wearing a Shrey lid, he walked out to visit great vengeance and furious anger on New Zealand’s depleted attack.
Trent Bridge was abuzz with anticipation at tea. The queue for ice cream was lengthy, the smell of chips and sunscreen wafting across the ground. A broad mix of folk had come through the gates, thrown open on Tuesday with no charge by Nottinghamshire, from the couple posing for a picture with their baby – memorable first day at the cricket, this – to the students with hipster moustaches, groups of young women, those in sunhats and replica shirts.
As Bairstow and Stokes walked back out to the middle, England’s requirement was 160 in 38 overs. “We needed four an over and that has been the rate throughout the game,” Bairstow said afterwards, but in the moment that equation does not seem so simple. One more wicket falling brings in Ben Foakes, who helped shepherd a fourth-innings chase a week ago at Lord’s, but is not known as a dasher. Below him a tail that may not delay New Zealand long.
Even considering the run-glut, this is a fourth-innings chase on the final day. If the pitch won’t offer much assistance (and it doesn’t), then surely New Zealand can push the field back, hide the ball out wide, make scoring difficult? In the event, they chose to attack, too – the reigning World Test Champions need the points if they are going to get close to defending their title. Matt Henry was the bowler tasked with finding the breakthrough. With men back on the rope, the plan is pretty clear.
As Bairstow twice swats pulls in to the fence in the first over back, bringing up his fifty from 51 balls, a girl waiting to take her seat in the William Clarke Stand gets out her phone and starts to do the calculation for her friends. Stokes guides another boundary to third, and 13 have come off the over. Already the rate has dropped below four. Over on the opposite side of the ground, a chorus has begun: “Shoes off if you love Ben Stokes!” Finding disciples at a Test in England is the easiest thing in the world at this point in the late afternoon.
Boult hares in and pitches the ball up outside off. Bairstow’s weight shifts slightly back and then on to the front foot, arms swinging with ultraviolent intent. Six dumped into the members at long-off.
In the next over, Henry is fetched twice more into the stands. Suddenly this contest has become bar-room brawl – or rather, it has become a one-day blitz, such as England fans are used to seeing from Bairstow. The short boundary on the Bridgeford Road side is being peppered, just as it was when he made 139 off 92 during England’s world-record 481 for 6 against Australia in 2018.
No matter. With Tim Southee’s next delivery squeezed past the dive of point, Bairstow can raise his arms aloft for the first time in a home Test since 2016. His century is the second-fastest by an Englishman in Tests, relegating the 85-ball effort by Stokes against New Zealand – McCullum’s New Zealand – at Lord’s in 2015. Already there is a sense that the Trent Bridge Test could be as epochal as that match, seen as lifting the mood of the English game after yet another World Cup debacle.
Stokes is limping by now, having aggravated an old cartilage issue in his knee, and England’s requirement is still 80 runs. But the game is basically up. Bairstow mauls the offspin of Michael Bracewell into the leg side for 6-6-4; Stokes rallies to drill Southee straight back towards the pavilion, bringing up a 55-ball fifty almost in passing. Another Stokes six off Bracewell almost lands in the top tier at the Radcliffe Road End, the ball pinging back off the brickwork and on to the outfield. “Don’t take me home!” roars the crowd, and you can understand why.
England need 35 – make that 31 – actually, 27 – before Bairstow finally falls to Boult, getting a fist bump from the bowler as he makes for the dressing room. The fires have banked, the “Jonny eyes” have done the business. Bairstow and Stokes belted an eye-popping 133 off 68 balls as the final passage of this rollicking Test, which had promised a potentially fraught tussle for supremacy, but became a gallop in the evening sunshine.
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick