Jonny Bairstow smashed England’s second fastest ever Test century as Ben Stokes’ side wrapped up their first home series win in two years with a thrilling five-wicket victory over World Test champions New Zealand.
Bairstow silenced his critics with a swashbuckling 77-ball hundred, agonisingly falling a ball short of Gilbert Jessop’s long-standing record.
The doubters were calling for Bairstow’s Yorkshire team-mate Harry Brook, in phenomenal form for his county, to replace the 32-year-old due to a lack of red-ball cricket ahead of the series after his participation in the IPL.
But Bairstow showed his undoubted class with a phenomenal ninth Test ton; and his most impressive of all as he led England to an incredible win and an unassailable 2-0 series lead. And after winter hundreds in the Ashes and West Indies, his place as a lynchpin in England’s middle order is assured.
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The way he took the game by the scruff of the neck on the final day with pure brutality against a world-class attack was amazing to watch. It epitomised everything the new Brendon-McCullum-Ben Stokes, who fittingly finished with an unbeaten 75, coach-captain combination stands for.
And what an advert for Test cricket it was. It was the perfect show to counter any noise of introducing four-day Tests, please take note Michael Vaughan. Amazingly, tickets for the final day were free and the packed house were treated to a classic day of cricket which money cannot buy.
England came into the series on the back of a horror two-year spell which saw them win just one out of their last 17 Tests before the Kiwis flew into London.
The visitors were overwhelming favourites to add another dose of misery to the already blown apart English cricket hierarchy.
But McCullum, New Zealand’s former captain, helped steer the wreckage back to shore and there is optimism among the ranks once again. There will be choppy waters along the way, but England cricket fans are in for one hell of a ride if the last fortnight is anything to go by.
Before play on the last morning, veteran seamer Stuart Broad said England would “go for anything” they were set. And that’s exactly what they did.
If anyone was in any doubt of the hosts’ intentions after slipping to 93/4 they were quickly dispelled as captain Stokes skipped down the pitch and dispatched Southee down the ground for six.
The equation was simple, England needed 160 runs in 38 overs in the final session with an exuberant crowd willing them on. Bairstow blew away the weary Kiwi bowlers to all parts of Trent Bridge with one of the most memorable displays of hitting.
Alongside Stokes, Bairstow brutally hammered the visitors as they raced to their target with 129 runs in under an hour. England’s big hitters served up a treat as the full house basked in the summer sunshine and cantered to victory with 22 overs left.
The match-winning partnership of 181, in just 121 balls, was finally broken as Bairstow was dismissed for a hugely-entertaining 136 offered a shining light after a couple of years in the Test darkness.
Earlier in the Test, magical Joe Root conjured up another incredible century, this time 176, to set up an unlikely shot at victory.
With the huge burden of captaincy lifted off his shoulders; Root has shown just why he is regarded as the best batter England have ever produced and it head and shoulders above the rest of the world.
His hundreds in both Tests have been majestic. A pure artist at the top of his game, and he wants to push the envelope of where Test batting can go. Watching him reverse lap Tim Southee for six on the penultimate morning was a joy to behold.
Match-winner Bairstow said after the win: "It's really good fun. The plans after tea was let's go one of two ways. With the short side and the stand how it is, there's no point in going down. You just have to keep going up.
"We always said if we needed 160 in the final session, 160 off 35 overs, you back yourself to get that. I know we were four wickets down but the belief was still there. We've had people come out and play special knocks and that's what we firmly believed when we came to the ground this morning.
“Look at the crowd which has turned up on day five of a Test match at Trent Bridge - 13,000. People question Test cricket at times and the way in which it is played over a period of time. But there's been over 500 scored in both first innings' and 300 chased down in the last innings. If that isn't an advert for Test cricket I don't know what is.”
Amazed captain Ben Stokes added: "I'm the same as you. Today just, wow, unbelievable. I don't know what to do. It's not just about today, it's about the four days before. The work ethic everyone had before today was fantastic. You don't win from just one day. The way we fought back after 500 on the board. Popey, Rooty.
"Incredible, incredible Test match. Huge testament to everyone's character and resilience."
He then spoke about Jonny Bairstow: "Man! I was out there for a while with him and he had the Jonny eyes. You'll probably see it on TV. When he has those eyes you're not stopping him. You let him go on and do what he needs to do.”
And let’s not forget a special mention for Ollie Pope who looked assured during his first-innings 145. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come and he can cement his place at number three.
It’s been a long time coming for Pope after a testing couple of years in and out of the side. But he’s been the country’s biggest prospect since Root’s phenomenal rise to the top. He is brimming with talent and England are desperate for him to showcase it on a regular basis.
Geoffrey Boycott may not agree, but this England team is exciting to watch and a source of happiness amid a backdrop of sorrow in the country.
Second Test scorecard (England win by 5 wickets and lead the three-match series 2-0):
New Zealand: 553 (Mitchell 190, Blundell 106; Anderson 3/62) & 284 (Mitchell 62*, Young 56; Broad 3/70)
England: 539 (Root 176, Pope 145; Boult 5/106) & 299/5 (Bairstow 136, Stokes 75*; Boult 3/94)