“Whatever we’re set, we’ll try and chase,” Jonny Bairstow said with a shrug, as England stared down the barrel of a daunting fourth-innings target in the fifth Test.
India are already 257 runs ahead with just three wickets down but England’s centurion was supremely relaxed about the prospect, declaring: “Playing in the manner we are, you’re going to lose games of cricket.”
Certainly Bairstow could be forgiven a little sanguinity given England’s recent form, and his own. Had it not been for his brilliant 106 – his third century in as many Tests – England’s chances would already have been reduced to nothing. And it was a reflective as well as a relaxed Bairstow who emerged to face the media at stumps on day three, a man who has endured a good deal of strife during his decade in an England shirt and who is now determined simply to enjoy his cricket.
“There’s no point going over old ground,” he said when asked about some of the harder times: the defeats, the dismissals, the ceaseless shifts up and down the order.
“It’s been an eventful journey, an enjoyable journey, with heartbreak at times. But it’s all character‑building. Over the last couple of years everyone’s been through it. Covid isolation, bubbles, being away from family. But hopefully we’re through the worst part, putting smiles back on faces and bums on seats.”
Naturally – this was a Bairstow press conference, after all – there was a good-natured barb or two at the assembled media as well. “Got no idea,” he replied when asked about whether technical improvements had driven his extraordinary run of form.
“I’ve never been a great technician. That’s why you lot have torn me to shreds. Leg-side of the ball, off-side of it, bowled through the gate. I’ve just stripped it back and tried to concentrate on watching the ball.”
Bairstow also shed a little light on the challenge of facing India’s new‑ball pair of Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah, who were able to bowl almost unchanged through the first 30 overs of the innings because of rain delays.
“There was a consolidation we had to go through,” he admitted. “They bowled very well last night and this morning. The ball was swinging and it was just about trying to shift that momentum back. Trying to manipulate the field into places you’re able to score. But you’re also going to have to take a couple of risks.”
One incident Bairstow was keen to play down was his pointed conversation with Virat Kohli in the tense morning session. “Nah, literally nothing to it,” he said.
“Two very competitive people out on the field doing what they love, 11 guys that are very passionate about their country. It was great craic out there. I hope that clears it up.”
So: what can England chase? The India seamer Mohammad Siraj refused to reveal if India – who need only a draw to clinch the series – would be inclined towards an attacking declaration on day four. And naturally Bairstow was not going to put a ceiling on England’s ambition.
“Whatever’s set is set and we’ll go about it,” he said. “We’ll be looking to go after it in the same manner.”
And besides, this is now an England team with a sense of mission, playing for something bigger than the simple ledger of wins and losses. “You’re going to lose games of cricket,” Bairstow said.
“People are going to be better than you. But if we’re enjoying the way we’re playing the game, performance will go up. That can only enhance the game of Test cricket and inspire the next group of Test cricketers to come through.”