JONNY BAIRSTOW'S recent upturn in form was maintained with an outstanding all-round display as Yorkshire attempted to force victory against Sussex at Arundel.
Overlooked by England’s selectors for the Test series against Sri Lanka,York-based Bairstow has responded with some of his best form of the season, which started with a match-winning unbeaten 60 in the NatWest T20 Blast triumph at Northampton.
He brought the confidence from that display into the current championship match and after claiming six catches during Sussex’s first innings – just one short of equalling the Yorkshire wicketkeeping record for an innings held by his late father, David – he followed that with an unbeaten 161.
Batting for nearly seven hours, Bairstow had to combat an accurate Sussex bowling attack and a slow Arundel wicket to face 289 balls and hit eight fours and three sixes, enabling Yorkshire to declare 154 runs ahead on 470 for seven.
The placid nature of the pitch was underlined with Sussex comfortably seeing out the final 10 overs of the third day to reach 21 without loss at the close, trailing by 133 runs, and it will take a significant Yorkshire effort to claim the victory that would send them clear at the top of division one.
“Our attitude is to always try to win,” said Bairstow, whose unbeaten 161 was his first century for Yorkshire since scoring 186 against Derbyshire in April last year.
“That is a given for this side. We don’t want to get to end of the season and be left thinking, ‘If only we hadn’t settled for a draw in that game’.”
Bairstow’s achievements were in stark contrast to the disappointment felt by Jack Leaning, the 20-year-old batsman from York playing in only his third championship match of the season, who fell just one run short of claiming his maiden championship century.
The pair had resumed overnight with Yorkshire trailing by 108 runs on 203-3, and batted nearly all the morning session until Leaning fell agonisingly short, driving James Tredwell back down the pitch only for the off-spinner to take a brilliant reflex return catch.
“Jack played outstandingly well, but fell one short and it was only because of an outstanding catch – I think Tredders is the only one in the country off his own bowling that would ever catch that!,” said Bairstow.
“I’m absolutely delighted I’ve scored the runs that I have. It’s been just around the corner, I haven’t been fighting myself with anything too drastic or anything like that, I’ve just been trying to keep things as simple as I can.”
Aaron Finch, Yorkshire’s big-hitting Australian, could perhaps have helped his county accelerate but fell just three overs later when Steve Magoffin won an lbw appeal.
But Bairstow was given solid support by Tim Bresnan, who shared a 138-run stand spanning 50.3 overs with both players forced to curb their naturally attacking instincts on such a slow surface.
Bresnan was dropped on 63 at slip attempting to cut Tredwell, but it was not a costly error with Magoffin bowling him three overs later as the England all-rounder attempted an aggressive drive.
Azeem Rafiq also fell before the declaration, mis-cueing Tredwell to mid-off, but Bairstow was given a rousing reception when he sprinted off at the declaration to compose himself for wicket-keeping duties.