Jonny Bairstow is at the Oval sat in a white bucket seat at the top of the stairs down which he will walk on Wednesday to open the England batting in the first game of a summer that could change his life.
He will walk down those same steps on May 30 when England begin their World Cup campaign at the Oval against South Africa. And he will walk down them again in the middle of September when England play Australia in the final Test of the Ashes series.
Timing is everything in sport and Bairstow will meet the twin challenges of winning a home World Cup and regaining the Ashes at the peak of his career. Aged 29, a senior player in both the red and white-ball teams, having played 152 games across all three formats, Bairstow is integral to the success of English cricket.
He brings power and energy to set the tone at the top of England’s formidable one-day batting unit. As wicketkeeper-batsman, he is the heartbeat of the Test team. He is also a Telegraph Sport columnist this summer, and will share his insight and expertise from the dressing room as England go for glory in two of sport’s greatest contests.
“It is huge. It is the biggest summer I will ever be involved in. It is the biggest ever summer for English cricket full stop,” he says. “A World Cup and an Ashes; it is going to be amazing. You dream of winning them. If you can’t dream about that and think what that is going to feel like then what is the point (of playing)? At the same time you know it is going be a gruelling summer. Five Tests at the end of World Cup is going to be tough, mentally and physically.
“The biggest thing for us will be home support, playing in front of our own fans. We heard from Gareth Southgate last week. He was brilliant. A lovely guy. The football lads were so meticulous in their planning for the World Cup last year. We were all proud as punch when they got to the semis. I am not saying it will be quite like that for us guys, but at the same time if people are sat in pubs wearing an England shirt wanting us to go through, and getting right behind us, that would be very special.”
Bairstow could not be in a better place as he prepares for those challenges. He has just returned from a record-breaking Indian Premier League season. He scored a century for Sunrisers Hyderabad in his third match (114 off 56 balls, an achievement that can set up a player for life in the IPL, and ended with more runs (445) in a debut season than any player ever before. He can expect to be a prize draw in IPL auctions in the future and his profile in India will soar.
Bairstow’s success should not be a surprise. He has a crucial knack of grabbing an opportunity when it comes his way. He fought for years to get in the England one-day side, coming in for one-off games and walking away with the man-of-the-match award. He scored a century in his third Test after taking over from Jos Buttler as the team’s main keeper and when Jason Roy was dropped from the one-day team during the Champions Trophy in 2017, Bairstow took his place as opener and scored 43 and 100 not out in his next game.
But beyond the numbers in the IPL there was a more intriguing aspect to his performance. His partnership with David Warner blossomed. They had a natural understanding between the wickets (crucial for two of the quickest sprinters in the game) and looked as if they had been batting together for years. They set a new record for the highest opening stand in the IPL, became the first pair to register three consecutive 100 partnerships and only the second to score a hundred in the same innings.
WATCH: @davidwarner31 - @jbairstow21 'open' up about their 185 run stand— IndianPremierLeague (@IPL) April 1, 2019
The explosive opening duo discuss their individual s against RCB and their 'unique' ways of celebrating it! By @28anand@SunRisers#SRHvRCB
Full Interview - https://t.co/qSjQxIWDKapic.twitter.com/ojfKkLEXky
This would not be a surprise if it had been another player, but anyone who remembers the last Ashes series will be able to recall Warner shouting abuse at Bairstow. He was picked out and hammered verbally in the first Test at the Gabba and Warner was the lead attack dog.
Warner has been diminished since then by ball-tampering and has had a belly-full of controversy. The Australian was warm and welcoming to Bairstow, sharing knowledge generously and winning his respect, but he is not naive - he realises the bromance will be over when the Ashes starts.
“He has had a lot of things that have gone on over the last 18 months and the IPL was only his second competition back. I think that experience (ball-tampering) can only change you as a person. He was a very good team-mate, he passed on a lot of knowledge about local bowlers, game-plans, pitches, everything. He was excellent.
“We can say hello now. We did not have a connection before, but now we’ve played together and done well together and had a good partnership it will make a difference. We spent five weeks together having dinner and coffees. It changes things but it will still be England versus Australia.”
Bairstow reckons he will only have a handful of days off this summer, three in May, fewer in June. He relaxes over a game of golf but also has the strong support of family. He says he never talks cricket when he goes home to visit mother, Janet, and sister Becky. He leaves the cricket at the ground.
Whenever he scores a hundred he looks to the sky in recognition of his father, David, who took his own life aged 46. Bairstow feels he has talked enough about that chapter in his life and does not want anyone to think he is using it as a sob story to garner sympathy.
Nobody would think that, but it is understandable that he wants what happens on the field to be the main talking point now. This summer is the perfect way to ensure that happens.