Jonny Bairstow fell three short of a dashing century on his first outing in almost eight months, picking up where he left off last summer as he hit the comeback trail with Yorkshire’s second team.
Bairstow cracked 97 in just 88 deliveries against Nottinghamshire’s second string, with 13 boundaries and two sixes, before hammering fellow England international Olly Stone to cover with a hundred in sight.
The 33-year-old has not played since a freak golfing accident last September left him with three separate fractures in his left leg as well as a dislocated ankle and ligament damage, but has now taken a major step in what has been a long and arduous recovery.
Bairstow was in the midst of a career-best run of form when injury struck, taking a leading role in England’s Test renaissance with four hundreds in five innings, and he was back amongst the runs in day one at Headingley.
Even allowing for a few signs of ring rust, he was a cut above the standard of most of the visiting attack and only really found himself stretched when he went head-to-head with Stone.
Like Bairstow, the former Warwickshire quick has designs on a role in the forthcoming Ashes series, and he was unlucky to have Bairstow dropped on 21. His third delivery to Bairstow flew off the outside edge at shoulder height and should have been taken at second slip, only for Calvin Harrison to parry the chance for four.
Stone, watched from the sidelines by the England and Wales Cricket Board’s elite pace bowling coach Neil Killeen, was clocked at close to 90mph in the home dressing room and was in scene-stealing form on an occasion that otherwise belonged to one man. He began by taking one for seven in a five-over burst with the new ball, hassled Bairstow in a combative second spell and removed him with the first ball of his third.
Yorkshire coach Tom Smith admitted his side’s star attraction had succumbed to a few butterflies ahead of his first appearance in 241 days, but was pleased to see him back in the old groove soon enough.
“He was a little bit nervous this morning, it was like his debut again,” said Smith.
“He’s been keen as mustard to get out there playing cricket after such a long time off. He was gutted to get out, no matter what form of cricket he’s gutted to get out – but he was happy with the way it went. Getting runs being out there in the middle, he was chuffed to bits.
“You can have as many nets as you want but when you actually get out there and face bowlers like Olly Stone it’s going to test you. It’s been a good challenge.”
Bairstow’s appearance at number four in the order further diminished the fanciful idea that he could make his England return as a repurposed opener, though he is scheduled to share wicketkeeping duties with Harry Duke for the rest of this match and that option could prove more appealing.
His attacking repertoire got a brisk workout, with plenty of steers to third man, a couple of flicks over mid-wicket and one expertly timed on-drive. Not everything was fully controlled, with an edge through the vacant slip cordon and a wayward chip just landing safe off Toby Pettman adding to his reprieve off Stone.
But for the most part he was in charge, not least when launching Harrison’s leg-spin for two big sixes into the stands. A hundred at the first time of asking looked inevitable after that but Stone’s return did the trick as Bairstow picked out the catcher as he aimed for the ropes at cover.