First Test, Day 1: England 286-6 (J Bairstow 109no, B Foakes 42, B Stokes 36; J Holder 2-15, J Seales 2-64, K Roach 2-71) v West Indies
England relied on an old stager to kick-start their ailing Test team’s new era, with Jonny Bairstow’s classy century saving the tourists on day one of the first Test against the West Indies in Antigua.
Change has been in the air ever since a catastrophic Ashes series limped to its conclusion in January, with a ruthless cull of off-field staff and on-field talent, all in the aid of a heavily trailed ‘red-ball reset’.
But the new era had started to look an awful lot like the old one as the hosts dominated the opening skirmishes at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, knocking over a revamped top order to leave England 48 for four.
Enter 32-year-old Bairstow, who made his debut almost a decade ago and has picked up 81 caps along the way, as he dragged his side to 268 for six with a memorable 109 not out.
He hit the ropes 17 times in a muscular display, but earned the right to enjoy some late spoils after scrapping hard when the pressure was on.
Despite playing just twice in Australia he scored England’s only century of the trip, 113 in the drawn Sydney Test, fracturing his thumb in the process and missing the subsequent debacle in Hobart. That means he has now scored back-to-back tons, and eight in total, having previously gone 19 games without.
As adverts head out for a new director of cricket, a new head coach and with several places up for grabs there is now no doubt whatsoever that Bairstow, the second most experienced player behind captain Joe Root, will be part of the journey.
The sight of the Yorkshireman racing through the crease after sweeping his way to three figures, arms pumping and beaming at the away dressingroom, was just the tonic England required to begin banishing their Ashes hangover.
Such scenes looked a long way off when he arrived at the crease, with a buoyant Windies attack having knocked off England top order without much resistance. They had chosen to bat first after winning the toss, but soon found themselves in Kemar Roach’s sights.
The Bajan quick was man of the series on the last visit to the Caribbean and picked up where he left off, making short work of debutant opener Alex Lees. The Durham left-hander got off the mark with a boundary from his fifth ball in international cricket, squirting to third man, but that was as good as it got.
Roach set him up with a sequence of away swingers then brought one back in to win an lbw, a tough lesson for the newcomer about life at the top. Partner Zak Crawley started with a glorious on-drive but made just eight, his eagerness to dominate ending in a crooked drive at Jayden Seales and inside edge to wicketkeeper Josh Da Silva.
Root was unable to salvage things on his return to the No 3 slot, arriving far earlier than he would have liked and leaving in similar haste. Roach could have had him caught at slip had Jermaine Blackwood been more alert to a chance that flashed through his hands but responded with an even more satisfying piece of bowling.
With Root shaping to leave the ball after his previous temptation, he zipped it back in off the pitch and flicked the off bail with extreme precision. Root had to look over his shoulder to confirm his fate, with Roach standing motionless at the top of his follow-through to savour the moment.
Dan Lawrence chipped in with 20 before Jason Holder had him lbw in the midst of a five-over burst that did not cost a single run.
Bairstow first dug in alongside Ben Stokes, with the pair scratching out 10 runs from 74 balls before lunch, but started to flex his muscles in the afternoon as he started trusting his pull shot.
Stokes had a couple of scares on his way to 35, eventually dragging down his leg stump as he went after Seales, but Bairstow was increasingly confident.
Alongside Ben Foakes, who made light of previous question marks over his batting, the pair put together a game-changing stand worth 99. Foakes played a minor gem as he skipped along to 42 with eight boundaries, but when he was trapped in front by Holder, Bairstow redoubled his efforts.
After reaching 50 in exactly three hours with a cut for four, he bullied a tiring attack with hard running and powerful blows. At one stage he struck seven boundaries in 10 deliveries, scoring at T20 rates, as Roach, Veerasammy Permaul and Alzarri Joseph paid the price.
One was an inside edge over the stumps off Roach and he was lucky that Holder did not review a strong lbw shout on 89, but when he stooped to sweep Kraigg Brathwaite it capped a fine effort.