England relied on a former stager to kick off the new era of their struggling Test side, Jonny Bairstow’s classy century saving tourists on the first day of the first Test against the West Indies.
Change has been in the air since a disastrous streak of Ashes ended in January, with a ruthless elimination of off-pitch personnel and on-pitch talent, all with the aid of a “reset of the red ball “strongly dragged.
But the new era had begun to look a lot like the old as the hosts dominated the opening skirmishes at Antigua’s Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, toppling a revamped top order to leave England 48 for four.
Enter Bairstow, 32, who made his debut nearly a decade ago and has earned 81 caps along the way, as he trailed his side to 268 for six with a memorable 109 not out.
He hit the ropes 17 times in a brawny display but earned the right to enjoy some late drops after giving up hard when the pressure was on.
Despite only playing twice in Australia, he marked the England trip’s only century, 113 in the drawn Sydney Test, fracturing his thumb in the process and missing the ensuing debacle at Hobart. This means he has now scored consecutive tons, and eight in total, having already gone 19 games without.
As the adverts point to a new director of cricket, a new head coach and with several places up for grabs, there is no longer any doubt that Bairstow, the second most experienced player behind captain Joe Root, will be part of the journey .
The sight of the Yorkshireman running through the crease after sweeping his way towards three figures, arms pumping and beaming towards the outside dressing room, was just the tonic England needed to start banishing their Ashes hangover.
Such scenes seemed distant when he came into the crease, with a dynamic Windies attack having toppled England without much resistance. They had opted to bat first after winning the toss, but soon found themselves in the crosshairs of Kemar Roach.
The speedy Bajan was the man of the series last visit to the Caribbean and picked up where he left off, making short work of debuting flyhalf Alex Lees. The Durham southpaw took off with a limit of his fifth ball in international cricket, squirting towards the third man, but that was as good as it gets.
Roach set it up with a swinging streak on the outside, then brought one back to earn an lbw, a tough lesson for the newcomer to life on top. His partner Zak Crawley started with a glorious drive but only made it eight, his eagerness to dominate ending in a twisted drive to Jayden Seales and inside wicketkeeper Josh Da Silva.
Root couldn’t save things when he returned to the number three spot, arriving much earlier than he would have liked and leaving in the same haste. Roach could have gotten him caught in the act if Jermaine Blackwood had been more attentive to a chance that flew through his hands but responded with an even more satisfying piece of bowling.
As Root prepared to leave the ball after his earlier temptation, he closed it off the field and sent the bail with pinpoint accuracy. Root had to look over his shoulder to confirm his fate, with Roach standing still atop his suite to savor the moment.
Daw Lawrence contributed with 20 before Jason Holder lbwed it in the middle of a five-over flurry that didn’t cost a single point.
Bairstow dug in initially alongside Stokes, the pair scraping 10 runs on 74 balls before lunch, but began to flex his muscles in the afternoon as he began to trust his shot.
Stokes had a few scares on his way to 35, eventually dragging his leg stump as he chased Seales, but Bairstow grew increasingly confident.
Alongside Ben Foakes, who shed light on previous question marks on his stick, the pair put up a game-changing stand worth 99. Foakes played a little gem as he passed to 42 with eight limits, but when he was trapped in front by Holder, Bairstow redoubled his efforts.
After hitting 50 in exactly three hours with a cut for four, he intimidated a tiring attack with a hard run and powerful shots. At one point he reached seven limits in 10 deliveries, scoring at T20 rates, as Roach, Veerasammy Permaul and Alzarri Joseph paid the price.
One was an inside edge on the stumps of Roach and he was lucky Holder didn’t see a loud lbw scream again on 89 but when he leaned over to sweep Kraigg Brathwaite it capped off a nice effort.