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Jonny Bairstow century leads thrilling England fightback at Headingley

Jonny Bairstow celebrates his century at Headingley (Mike Egerton/PA)
Jonny Bairstow celebrates his century at Headingley (Mike Egerton/PA)

Jonny Bairstow was England’s century-scoring hero once again as he led debutant Jamie Overton in a thrilling partnership that turned the Headingley Test against New Zealand on its head.

England looked to be imploding when the duo came together at 55 for six on day two, light years away from the tourists’ 329 all out, but they were rescued by Bairstow’s fearless 130 not out and an unbeaten 89 from Overton in his first international innings.

The pair plundered 209 runs from just 223 balls to close on 264 for six – a lightning-fast rate in any circumstances, let alone having seen their team’s top six dismissed in the space of 12 calamitous overs.

Bairstow’s blistering 136 in last week’s victory at Trent Bridge was the innings of a lifetime but the Yorkshireman somehow produced a knock worthy of its predecessor at his beloved home ground.

With the series already won, England captain Ben Stokes promised his team’s first priority was to deliver entertainment and it is Bairstow who took top billing in their variety act, flogging a high-class Kiwi attack to the boundary on 21 occasions.

Such was the exhilarating manner of his 95-ball ton, a fluid, crowd-pleasing affair that appeared to drag Overton along in its slipstream, it was hard to believe that England were still 65 behind at stumps.

Bairstow has been playing Test cricket for a decade but four of his 10 centuries have come in the past seven games, all against a backdrop of adversity, and it is now certain that the 32-year-old is in the midst of a golden phase that once looked unlikely to materialise.

Overton, picked for his 90mph bowling rather than his abilities as a number eight, ended agonisingly close to announcing his arrival on the biggest stage with the second first-class century of his career but already has a share of England’s best ever seventh-wicket partnership.

England had earlier bowled New Zealand out for 329, picking up the last five wickets for 104. There was a marquee moment for Daryl Mitchell, who turned his overnight 78 into a third century in as many games before holing out to Jack Leach on the stroke of tea.

Leach also had reason to celebrate, grabbing two more after the restart to land his first five-wicket haul on home soil, but events were about to escalate quickly.

Trent Boult wreaked havoc with a classic new-ball spell, swinging the ball menacingly on a relentless line and length.

One by one he sent England’s top three packing, flicking a bail as he went past Alex Lees’ push, uprooting Ollie Pope’s off stump with a wicked inswinger and bustling one through Zak Crawley’s flimsy technique to take out middle.

The blows kept raining down on England, with Tim Southee’s clinical removal of home favourite Joe Root, caught behind off a feather edge, leaving the hosts dangling by a thread at 21 for four.

Bairstow and Stokes were never likely to flee from the danger and instead put their foot to floor with 34 runs off the next 19 balls. While Bairstow would kick on in outstanding fashion, Stokes’ commitment to outright aggression proved his undoing. After a rapid-fire 18, he punched Neil Wagner straight to mid-off for a regrettably reckless dismissal.

Ben Stokes reacts to his dismissal
Captain Ben Stokes threw his wicket away (Mike Egerton/PA)

By the end of the over Wagner had Foakes in his back pocket too, lbw for a duck, and England were in the mire.

Their position would have been a probably irreversible 63 for seven had Overton departed the same way for just five, but Wagner barely made the case for reviewing his own lbw appeal. Replays showed that Overton would have been given, echoing England’s DRS failure on day one that spared Mitchell on just eight.

Bairstow had a let-off on 28, Wagner putting down a tough return chance, but the evening session saw England at their bravest and best. Bairstow refused to go into his shell, hungrily seeking out scoring options as he chalked up a 51-ball half-century with a fine cut for four.

Overton grew in confidence too, sprinkling more ambitious shots into a sound defensive method as New Zealand realised too late that the wind had changed. Three overs of Michael Bracewell’s spin cost 29 as the runs flowed, Bairstow’s sparkling tempo now matched by Overton, who launched one six down the ground and deposited another disparagingly over mid-wicket.

Jamie Overton celebrates his half-century
Jamie Overton had the opportunity to raise his bat on debut (Mike Egerton/PA)

England blazed away 173 runs in 29 overs after tea, with Bairstow imperious in the arc between third man and extra cover and Overton muscling the flagging seamers around like a seasoned campaigner.

He would have to wait for his chance to reach an improbable debut century but nothing was holding back Bairstow, who bellowed in elation and sprinted towards his mother Janet in the pavilion to savour the moment as he reached his hundred.

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