Glamorgan 245 (Labuschagne 65, Northeast 49, Edwards 3-54) lead Yorkshire 62 for 5 (Neser 3-15)
Different levels of course. The duties at Westminster Abbey to put a crown on King Charles III’s head are higher than standing up for the stumps for Ben Coad. But even two days earlier and some 300 kilometers north of Saturday’s coronation, another pair of king-making hands came under scrutiny.
The opening day of this Division Two bout between Yorkshire and Glamorgan by another name saw Bairstow’s much-anticipated return on Thursday. county looking for light to break through the years of dark clouds. And arriving on the ground in the morning was knowing that the bright spots had a lot to do with the return of a son. Nine months after suffering multiple fractures to his left leg in a freak golf course accident, the 2022 Bazball totem is back.
It was the perfect screenplay in many ways. The buzz around the stands died down a bit when Yorkshire decided to bowl first after winning the coin toss. And while it was a shame to have to wait to see Bairstow bat, more insightful was the 71.5 overs spent keeping wicket. Even after a spectacular last summer – 681 runs, four hundred and an average of 75.66 – his work behind the stumps between now and Tests against Ireland and Australia will guarantee him reclaiming a spot in the XI that he feels is rightfully his is. Ultimately by taking it away from Ben Foakes.
That Yorkshire followed up their removal of Glamorgan for 245 with 62 for 5 of them leaves more for Bairstow. Originally carded at five, he shifted his seniority to call on two night watchmen – Mickey Edwards and Matt Fisher – before still having to walk out at 6:36pm for the last two overs. Presumably sending a third would have been bad form. Either way, a few hours of vintage on Friday will echo Jonny well beyond this game.
For the two sacrificial lambs, there were three catches of varying difficulty over a holding performance that was surprisingly certain. The pains will undoubtedly come, but there were no pains that were apparent in real time.
The first dismissal got him on his feet, within minutes of the team crouching over the edge of the border. Four balls in, a comical loose drive from visiting skipper David Lloyd gave Bairstow an excuse to test out his side-to-side and shuffle right to complete the dismissal.
The Australian came to the crease with nothing on the board, and along with Sam Northeast dragged Glamorgan out of the Ben Coad-caused hole at 1 for 2. The pair made 83 together before Northeast, the aggressor, was sent back by Edwards three deliveries after the lunch break, unable to get his bat (and handle) out of a delivery that exploded from a length.
Labuschagne had played possum early doors. He lunched on 19 from 101 deliveries but soon moved into a second half-century of the season just 32 deliveries later. He was just starting to look like Test cricket’s best batsman when Hill got one to keep his line off the seam of the Rugby Stand End.
This was the one that drew the most emotion out of Bairstow, and not just because of their nationality. Bairstow had been on Labuschagne’s ears since the end of the 21st when the right-hander, on 10, seemingly pushed Edwards back. Labuschagne’s unflappable attitude worked well enough to keep the umpire’s finger down, much to the chagrin of the fielding team and those in the stands.
That should have been 42 for three, and who knows what that could have meant for Glamorgan so early in the play. Contributions from Timm van der Gugten and Billy Root brought them within five runs of what they considered a par in the first innings. To have led 194 with five Yorkshire wickets is already more than they bargained for given how the day started.
Although even Thursday’s conclusion gives the scoreboard an artificial appearance. Both of Bairstow’s nightwatchmen fell into the space of two balls meaning he had to come out anyway under floodlights and with Labuschagne taking the opportunity to serve back now that the shoe was on the other foot. Aside from a stifled LBW screaming the second ball, it was mostly trouble-free. A nudge around the corner from his fourth face secured a first first-class run since 49 against South Africa last August, nine months ago.
Nine months or “36 weeks,” as Bairstow put it on Instagram Wednesday night. The content of the post spoke of pain, emotions and unanswerable questions during this long stretch on the sidelines. What those closest to him knew was distilled into those 115 words for the rest of us.
Privately, the 33-year-old’s anguish is as much about the crushing disappointment of losing everything when he finally settled in as it is about having to watch from home for the past six months. The T20 World Cup victory, Pakistan’s historic Test series, Harry Brook’s rise from placeholder to child prodigy. There’s FOMO, and then there’s whatever Bairstow has been through.
There were a few byes, most notably one for four that devilishly staggered down his right after sending him left, but nothing too concerning. At times he was childish, at one point running up to a billboard blown onto the field and lying over it, looking at the stands to laugh as if this were panto. It duly arrived.
This is only day one of his return, but to see him with a smile on his face, even as he sheepishly walked away at the end, felt like a positive step forward to it all. While it brings us closer to an uneasy call for the Ashes, Bairstow’s return is only a boost for English cricket.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo