Jonny Bairstow is already one of the greatest openers the IPL has ever seen

The PBKS wicket-keeper batter (R) has been in sparkling form
The PBKS wicket-keeper batter (R) has been in sparkling form
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Shashwat Kumar

Even before a ball had been bowled in IPL 2022, the Punjab Kings fans were salivating at the prospect of Jonny Bairstow joining their side. The Englishman, who has enjoyed success in the IPL previously, was also coming into the tournament in a rich vein of form, having distinguished himself in the 5th Ashes Test and the series against the West Indies that followed.

But there was a spin to that story too. Prior to Bairstow’s name coming up at the auction, PBKS had a chance to bag Shikhar Dhawan’s services. Unsurprisingly, they availed that opportunity, meaning that alongside the retained Mayank Agarwal, they had pencilled down what their opening combination would be.

Bairstow still brought plenty of value, make no mistake about it. He has batted in the middle order for England in T20Is lately and has the attacking game to thrive against spin-bowling. While his returns haven’t been as remarkable as they are at the top of the order, he has still done enough to regularly warrant a place in the side – both for England and for PBKS in the IPL.

So, PBKS found themselves in a catch-22 situation. They knew what Bairstow could bring to the fore. But because he was versatile and the others didn’t seem as flexible, he was the one to compromise. At first, it seemed the only possible solution. When Bairstow only mustered 79 runs in 6 games, it felt something was broken.

They also had to reintroduce Bhanuka Rajapaksa to the IPL – just to cover for the poor run of form Bairstow was enduring. It made the PBKS bowling unit one of the weakest in the IPL, although that was a gamble they were seemingly willing to take. However, the lack of returns meant that they were forced into action.

Mauj kar di inha ne tey 💥#SherSquad, one word for our 🆕 opening combo 👇#SaddaPunjab #IPL2022 #PunjabKings #ਸਾਡਾਪੰਜਾਬ

And it was only after PBKS came to that realisation that Bairstow was pushed up the order to open. He didn’t sparkle in his first innings at the top against the Gujarat Titans. But since then, he has illustrated just why he is already one of the greatest openers the IPL has seen, and of course, why he deserves to be batting at the spot where he is most effective.

This article isn’t about how Bairstow sometimes struggles to start off against spin and how he can get stuck in the middle overs. He is pretty good at offsetting that on most occasions. It’s just that he is so much better at the top, and it is a pity that PBKS have only acknowledged that fact in the past fortnight.

Jonny Bairstow has an excellent record in the IPL as opener

When opening the batting in the IPL, Bairstow averages 42.07, having scored 1094 runs in 29 innings. This average, by the way, is the fifth best any opener has ever produced in the IPL (minimum 1000 runs). He also scores these runs at 145.47 – the fifth-best of all time using the same metrics.

The Englishman's numbers are staggering
The Englishman's numbers are staggering

Of those to have scored runs at a better average than him as opener, only Jos Buttler has a better strike rate. Of those to have scored runs at a higher strike rate than Bairstow, only Buttler has a better average. The Rajasthan Royals batter is largely considered the best T20 batter on the planet, and rightly so. But Bairstow, especially when opening the batting, isn’t too far off.

He might not get as many hundreds as his countryman usually does. However, the Yorkshireman demolishes bowling attacks in the powerplay. When featuring as an opener in the IPL, he strikes at close to 150 (149.11 to be precise) during the field restrictions, and averages more than 50 (53.81 to be exact). This strike rate is also the second-best any batter has ever notched up in the IPL (minimum 500 runs scored), with the PBKS wicket-keeper only behind Sunil Narine on that count.

Moreover, this is just what PBKS need in IPL 2022. Dhawan has scored plenty of runs again but has been asked to play the role of an anchor, meaning that he doesn’t go hard in the powerplay. However, with Mayank not clicking into gear, PBKS have lost too many wickets too early and have handed over the initiative.

With Bairstow at the top, it allows them to rip bowling attacks to shreds during the field restrictions. It also enables Dhawan to bat through the innings. It provides Mayank a chance to be aggressive against spin. And, of course, it provides Jitesh Sharma and Liam Livingstone the requisite platform to indulge in pyrotechnics.

Bairstow's 66(29) is such a typical #PunjabKings innings. Keep going, keep taking chances and back the rest of the batting to do the same.

Bairstow and opening in the IPL is a match made in heaven. Even at the Sunrisers Hyderabad, he was part of a fearsome pair alongside a certain David Warner. Not many are able to outscore and outpower the Australian. The Englishman, though, did so quite frequently.

Ironically enough, that is also part of the problem with the wicket-keeper. Because he is so adept wherever he bats, teams think he can bat anywhere and still keep producing the goods. To an extent, that is true as well, considering he has a pretty decent record across the board in the IPL. But he is at his most valuable at the top of the order. And that is a non-negotiable.

In the past, whenever there has been a temptation to change someone’s batting spot, Bairstow has been the one to suffer. Numbers, however, tell that he should be a constant, irrespective of whatever chopping and changing is going on elsewhere.

PBKS, too, were guilty of that at the start of IPL 2022. Now, they seem to have acknowledged how irresistible the Englishman can be as an opener. It was, after all, what they thought they were getting at the auction. It has taken them time to understand what his true potential is. They’ve at least understood, though. And that is never a bad place to begin.

Edited by Prasen Moudgal
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