IF you were picking an England Test side on current form you would have to consider Jonny Bairstow.
The Yorkshireman is in wonderful touch, his innings of 125 not out yesterday a reminder of his class with the Ashes looming.
Since returning from the West Indies tour last month, when he spent most of his time carrying drinks, Bairstow has been a model of consistency.
He hit 102 and 59 in his first Championship game of the season, against Hampshire at Headingley, and followed that with innings of 50 and 66 in the club’s last match against Somerset at Taunton.
Bairstow’s century yesterday, which helped Yorkshire to a first innings lead of 17 after they crashed to 142-8 in reply to Middlesex’s 212, was a performance permeated with international quality.
Yorkshire first-team coach Jason Gillespie described it as “one of the best innings you’ll see in county cricket”, adding that he believes Bairstow should be with the England one-day side that starts its five-match series against New Zealand today.
It is difficult to disagree, unless you argue that Bairstow is better off playing first-class cricket, but there is no reason why both he and England’s current first-choice wicketkeeper, Jos Buttler, cannot play in the same XI in any form of cricket.
Suffice to say that Bairstow is knocking on England’s door with increasing severity, his performances excellent with bat and gloves.
On a day when Middlesex followed up with 127-4 in their second innings, a lead of 110 at the halfway stage of a compelling contest, Bairstow’s innings kept Yorkshire in the match.
It is not just the runs he is scoring but the manner of them and, above all, the context of their compilation; the hosts were in some trouble when he came to the crease at 36-3 on the first evening, and things got no easier after a calamitous start to day two.
Resuming on 96-4, Yorkshire lost a wicket to the first and third balls of the morning as Jack Leaning was trapped lbw by Toby Roland-Jones, who then had Glenn Maxwell caught behind from a careless swish outside off stump.
Maxwell has made only two runs in three Championship innings since joining the club, and only 48 in six innings across all cricket.
Bairstow is often at his best when the chips are down, and after starting the day on 25 – he scored exactly 100 of the 133 runs Yorkshire managed in the day – he was soon into his stride with a powerful square-driven four off Roland-Jones.
Will Rhodes helped him add 35 for the seventh-wicket before falling to a catch behind off Tim Murtagh, but Yorkshire were still some way behind the eight-ball when Tim Bresnan was held at second slip by Ollie Rayner at the second attempt off James Harris.
Steve Patterson – fresh from a brace of 40s at Taunton – kept Bairstow company until the total had reached 170, at which point he was bowled pushing forward at Roland-Jones shortly after lunch.
Bairstow added 59 for the last-wicket in 13 overs with Jack Brooks, who contributed six to their stand as Bairstow cut loose at the other end, striking two leg-side sixes off Roland-Jones and two straight off Rayner, who eventually had Brooks caught behind to finish the fun.
Middlesex responded with a useful spell before tea, which they took on to 45-0 to forge a lead of 28.
But they lost two wickets in two balls with the score on 51 as Brooks had Joe Burns amazingly held one-handed by Adam Lyth, diving low to his right at second slip, and Nick Compton lbw.
There is always a temptation to exaggerate the standard of a catch, but let there be no argument about Lyth’s effort. It was what is commonly known as a “worldie”, and if he is not in the England slip cordon for the first Ashes Test, there should be a public inquiry.
Middlesex fell to 65-3 when Patterson pinned Sam Robson, and then to 72-4 when Bresnan won an lbw verdict against Neil Dexter.
Dawid Malan, batting with a runner, and James Franklin frustrated Yorkshire with a fifth-wicket stand of 55, the left-handers providing the type of steadying influence that Yorkshire’s fifth-wicket pair of Bairstow and Leaning had offered the previous evening.
The outcome of this match is anybody’s guess. Without Bairstow’s contribution, that would not be the case.