The most astounding thing about Jonny Bairstow’s 44-ball 71 not out on the fifth day at Leeds, to help England hurtle towards their chase of 296, was its sense of inevitability.
Then again, this innings merely ranked a distant third among Bairstow’s most remarkable Test innings of the past fortnight, during which he has found a rarefied level of batting, combining swagger and power with extraordinary control and calm. There has been a transcendent quality to Bairstow’s batting, an indomitability of the ilk that most leading batsmen only access a handful of times; he has stayed there for three consecutive innings.
This wonderful sequence - 136 off 92 balls in the run chase at Trent Bridge; 162 off 157 balls to lift England from the debris of 55-6 to a first innings 360 at Headingley; and then the encore to finish the job - not only secured England a 3-0 series whitewash over New Zealand. It has also opened the tantalising prospect of Bairstow establishing himself as a modern great of the English game.
Traditionally, Test runs have been the currency of English batting greatness. But when Eoin Morgan retires from the international game on Tuesday, he will do so as the first England cricketer to achieve this elevated status without thriving in Test cricket.
Morgan is the tenth member of England’s 10,000-run club, across the international formats. The other nine - Joe Root, Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Graham Gooch, Alec Stewart, David Gower, Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick - all scored the majority of their runs in Tests.
Bairstow is now just 117 runs - or a few overs batting, if you prefer - away from becoming England’s 11th member of the 10,000 Club. It is an opportune moment to consider his wider standing in England’s batting pantheon.
In limited-overs cricket, Bairstow only needs to continue at his present rate to mount an irrefutable case for greatness. Consider that, of the 74 players in one-day international history to score 2000 runs opening, Bairstow boasts simultaneously the fastest strike rate and the fourth-best average.
Most ODI openers are either reliable anchors or exhilarating aggressors; Bairstow is both. He scored consecutive centuries in must-win matches when England won the 2019 World Cup. His quality and range as an Twenty20 batsman is such that he can excel in two vastly disparate roles, opening or attacking spin bowling during the middle overs, and is much-coveted in the Indian Premier League.
In Test cricket, so far, Bairstow’s credentials are not as outstanding. And yet all the frustrations of 2019-21, when England shunted Bairstow up and down the order, culminating in a run of 36 innings without passing 57, should not obscure his many achievements as a Test cricketer.
In 2016, Bairstow scored 1,470 runs at 59 apiece, a record for any Test wicketkeeper in a calendar year. He has now scored ten Test match centuries - more than Ted Dexter, Robin Smith or Jonathan Trott. While his overall average, 36.1, is not of the top rank, this has come during a brutal era for Test batsmen: Bairstow averages almost exactly the same as Ben Stokes.
Cricket’s three formats are so divergent that even a player as brilliant as Root has become surplus to requirements in T20 internationals. Comparing Bairstow and Root across formats, indeed, gives a sense of Bairstow’s worth. Each have clearly better records in one format of the game; in ODIs, you could make compelling cases for either; Bairstow alone commands a spot in all three first-choice England sides.
Unlike any members of the 10,000 club, Bairstow has scored almost an even split of runs against the red and white ball. And so, while Root’s status in the annals of English batting history was long ago assured, his Yorkshire team-mate is rapidly mounting a case to join him there.
Over 11 years as an international cricketer Bairstow has thrived in all three formats - just not at the same time. If this scintillating reinvention as a belligerent Test No 5, importing his white-ball prowess and clarity of thinking, can continue apace, Bairstow will not just keep winning England matches in all forms of the game. He will also cement his status as a modern England great.