On a lovely soft summer day in Chester-le-Street England’s opening pair were once again the difference. At 10 o’clock Eoin Morgan had won the toss and chosen to bat. From there it took just 18 overs of regal, muscular violence against the hard white ball from Bairstow and Jason Roy to all-but decide this de facto World Cup quarter-final before the scoreboard clock had passed midday.
Just like the previous time England played the most important ODI in their modern history –also known as last Sunday– it was Bairstow who seized the moment and wrenched it his way, scoring a second brilliant hundred to set up a 119-run victory.
He did so with feeling. But then this is a man who does everything with feeling, for whom there is no sense of breaking point being reached, because every point is breaking point. Often with elite sports people success is a moment of fulfilment or beatific peace. For Bairstow success comes as a kind of rage, those sublime achievements born out of galvanising adversity, real or imagined.
As he reached his hundred at the Riverside, a brutally carefree innings from 95 balls, Bairstow did not smile or cheer or look bashful. He shouted and flexed his neck muscles, looking not so much overjoyed as vengeful.
Possibly this was motivated by the former England captain Michael Vaughan. A minor spat between the two had bubbled away in the build-up. Here, at a moment to be enthroned in his personal highlights reel years from now, to crown his rise as arguably England’s finest ODI batsman ever, Bairstow chose to rub the top of his head in celebration. Vaughan is known for his work advertising a wig-maker’s franchise. Whatever it takes to get you through the moments.
New Zealand were hindered at the start of play by the absence of the rakish Lockie Ferguson, either suffering from a hamstring injury or piloting a twin-propeller plane to save a sacred Inca statue from the Nazis, depending on whom you believed.
Perhaps that multi-hatted cricketing existence has also disguised the through-the-roof brilliance of his ODI batting. Since May 2017 Bairstow has scored 2,277 runs at 54 with nine hundreds. No other England ODI batsman averages over 45 with a strike rate above 100. Twice in five days he has won defining generational games for his country. The argument as to whether Bairstow is England’s finest could simply start with the question: who has been better?
Just maybe don’t tell him yet. The rest of the order scrabbled a little to reach 307. Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer once again knocked the top off the chase. Chester-le-Street cooked gently in the late afternoon sun, with a wonderful feeling of space and light around those low stands. England will travel from here to Edgbaston next Thursday, still hitting from the front, still led by their own oddly spiky white-ball giant; and two steps now from a kind of cricketing heaven.