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Preview: England vs New Zealand - Headingley

— 22 June 2022

England’s license to thrill brand of Test Match Cricket is coming to Headingley, and homegrown hero Jonny Bairstow cannot wait.

Bairstow, Joe Root and, you never know, potentially Harry Brook too will give the third and final LV= Insurance Test against New Zealand, starting tomorrow, a distinctly Yorkshire feel.

Even the visitors have two former Yorkshire overseas players in their ranks, with captain Kane Williamson set to return after missing the second Test at Trent Bridge with Covid and squad member Ajaz Patel less certain to play.

England lead 2-0 and have already wrapped up the series.

In days gone by, it may have been preferable for interest sake that the series was alive coming to Leeds.

However, with World Test Championship points up for grabs – and England determined to advance with gusto at the start of a new era – any thoughts of a dead rubber can be thrown out of the window when the first ball is bowled at 11am.

That England have the series wrapped up already could even see the shackles loosened more than they already have been by captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum.

Man-of-the-moment Bairstow is certainly relishing the return to home turf, fresh from his stunning match-clinching 136 off 92 balls in the second Test at Trent Bridge last week.

“It’s something I’m definitely excited about,” said the Bradford-born star.

This week will be Bairstow’s seventh Test appearance on his home ground, and when asked to describe what it is like to don the three lions at Headingley, where England have most recently beaten Australia in 2019 and India last summer, he said: “Special.

“Being a Yorkshire lad and growing up here, playing a lot here, I’ve also been fortunate enough to play a few Tests here, and it’s a special venue.

“We know the fans are very passionate, and we know they get behind England.

“The last two Tests we’ve had here have been enthralling games, pretty much like the last one at Trent Bridge. Hopefully we can have another cracker.”

Special is a word Bairstow uses with regularity when talking to the ECB website about his recent exploits and returning home.

It is understandable, especially given the way he played on day five at Trent Bridge last week as he underpinned England’s successful run chase of 299, which was achieved in just 50 overs.

His 136 was his ninth Test century in 85 games, and he reached three figures in only 77 balls.

It was an innings of staggering quality from the 32-year-old and, he says, one of the highlights of his career.

“It was a special Test Match, a special day,” he said. “It’s probably sunk in a little bit more now, but then you have the build-up to the next match.

“They (New Zealand) made their hand quite clear that they were going to go around the wicket and try and go that way. There was a shorter side, and we got a couple away early.

“Ben (Stokes) came down, and I think everyone knows what he said, ‘Keep putting it further and further back into the stand’. That’s the kind of freedom you want to have. It came off. From that moment, the momentum was with us.

“It will be up there (amongst my highlights), definitely, just because winning a Test Match for England that way is something I’m really proud of.

“There’s obviously been different ways you’ve contributed, which will stack up. But, without a doubt, that one last week will definitely be up there.”

England reached tea at 139-4, needing 160 more in 38 overs. The game was in the balance, with Bairstow 43 and Stokes 25. They were only 46 into their 179-run partnership for the fifth wicket.

But there was only one thing on their mind at that the break: “Go and chase it down,” he added.

“There wasn’t a conversation about drawing the game, absolutely not.

“We’d have rather have lost that game than drawn it, which is a really exciting way to look at forthcoming games.”

Hear, hear! Let’s hope for more of the same at Headingley between tomorrow morning and Monday evening.

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