On January 5, Jonny Bairstow will, barring injury, take to the field for England in the fifth Test of an eagerly-anticipated Ashes series, at the famous Sydney Cricket Ground, writes Sam Drury.
If all goes to plan for England this winter, it could be a very memorable day. Perhaps even a day in which they set up the victory to retain the urn or seal a series win. That is the hope for England but however day two of the Sydney Test plays out, January 5 is a date the Bairstow family will never forget.
On that day in 1998, David Bairstow, Jonny’s father, took his own life at the age of 46. Now, almost 20 years on, Jonny has chosen to tell the story, not only of that day, but of how he and his family got through that terrible time by continually striving to move forward, in his new book, A Clear Blue Sky: A remarkable memoir about family, loss and the will to overcome.
“It was difficult and there are things all the way through that you ask yourself, reasons that you’ll never know about why and things that come up that will always be asked,” he told Sky Sports News.
“I was very fortunate to have someone help me with the book, in Duncan Hamilton, who was absolutely brilliant in the way that he approached it and the way he spoke to not only myself but my mum, my sister, best friends, dad’s best friends and so on and so forth.
“It made the process so easy and so fluid, it was huge credit to him. So, it wasn’t easy but, at the same time, it was pretty rewarding.”
Jonny Bairstow reflects on how he grew up very quickly as an eight-year-old following the death of his father
Bairstow is keen to stress that this is not just a book about the loss of his father or himself but rather about his entire family, particularly his sister Becky and mother Janet, who was suffering with cancer at the time of her husband’s death and whose attitude and way of dealing with things in the immediate aftermath has clearly had a lasting effect on her son.
“It is a case of why keep asking questions that may never be answered? There is no point thinking ‘I wonder what if…?'” Bairstow said. “That was a decision that mum made very early on, it was a case of ‘right, you guys are going to school’ the next day and that was the way she dealt with that.
“She took a very proactive approach to that and said ‘right this is how we’re going to do it: we’re not going to look back, we’re going to look forward.’ In some ways it was a very brave way to approach it, mum was bringing up two of us and, at the same time, was poorly as well.
“You grow up very quickly, very, very quickly. We were very fortunate to have people around us who helped with that. You’re quick to mature in many ways because all of a sudden, you’re the man of the house.
“You become someone who is very proud to have mum, sister, grandma, grandpa and the rest of the family all around you. I don’t really know how I look back on me being an eight-year-old boy and there are things that you’ll take from it and think ‘I should have done that differently’ or ‘I shouldn’t have done that’, ‘what could I have done better?’
“But there is no point sitting on that and thinking about that because that has now passed, that is a moment that you are able to look back on, to reflect on but at no point should it stop you moving forward.”
It is an approach that has enabled Bairstow to respond to setbacks such as being dropped from the England Test side for 18 months – as he was following the 2013/14 Ashes series – and return a stronger, more assured cricketer.
Having fought his way back into the Test side and begun establishing himself as England’s first choice wicketkeeper, perhaps the defining moment of his career came in Cape Town in January 2016, two days before the anniversary of his father’s passing.
Bairstow powered a cut to the boundary to bring up his maiden Test century before unleashing an almighty roar towards the heavens. The emotion clear for all to see in a moment that even the most hardened of observers could not fail to be moved by.
“People have asked what the celebration was about and you don’t really know what you’re doing at that specific moment in time,” Bairstow added. “Four years previous I got 95 at Lord’s and from that moment you are kicking yourself that it didn’t happen for you.
“The whole relief, emotion and everything that came out of that day was something that I’ll never forget and I was very fortunate to have the family over there, friends in the crowd – and what a day’s cricket it was!”
While Bairstow was able to share that moment with his family and friends, he also appreciated the words of his fellow Yorkshireman and the current Test captain Joe Root, particularly the understated way Root congratulated his team-mate.
“I’ll never forget at Cape Town he said ‘take it all in, this is your moment.’
Bairstow describes the role Joe Root played in celebrating his maiden Test century and looks ahead to the Ashes series this winter
“It would have been very easy for him to run over, give you a big hug and everything like that and interrupt something that he knew that I’d waited so long for, something that meant so much to me and I’ll be forever thankful for the way that he did that and the same at Old Trafford [after Bairstow’s first ODI hundred] at the end of this summer, two really special occasions.”
In the 19 months since that century against South Africa, Bairstow has proven his worth to his country time and again, with the bat and behind the stumps, and will travel to Australia as one of the first names on the England team sheet.
“It is an exciting time: everyone speaks about the Ashes, not only in England and Australia, but around the world and we know that we’re not just going and playing against 11 guys on the field, you’re playing against a whole nation,” he said.
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For many players such a prospect may appear daunting but after all Bairstow and his family have been through, he is more capable than most of putting that pressure into perspective and focusing on the task at hand.
And as for January 5, 2018 and the thought of playing a potentially crucial Ashes Test at the SCG on such an emotive day?
“It was the same in Cape Town, you always know when it is coming around. It is a natural thing but it won’t be taking my mind off anything else.”
Just keep moving forward, it is the Bairstow way.