Bairstow’s 136 from 92 balls included a century from 77 balls – one ball shy of Gilbert Jessop’s record set at Old Trafford way back in 1902 – as he and England’s captain, Ben Stokes, destroyed a delicately balanced match situation with 102 runs in the first nine overs after the interval.
Their 179-run stand spanned just 20.1 overs, and meant that England romped to their 299-run target in exactly 50 of their allotted 72 – a fitting tribute to a chase that Bairstow said had been treated exactly like one of their World-Cup-winning ODI performances.
“It was great fun,” Bairstow said during the post-match presentations. “When you get in that mood, you’ve got to just go with it. The plan that [New Zealand] set out with after tea was do or die, so you’ve got to do.”
That plan involved a consistent short-ball approach from a seam attack lacking the services of Kyle Jamieson to a back injury, and already weary after spending 128.2 overs in the field during England’s first-innings 539.
“Ben at the other end said ‘don’t even think about hitting one down [the ground], hit it into the stands,” Bairstow said. “That was the catalyst. Today was our day, and what a day it’s been.”
What happened next was simply extraordinary. From a well-set 43 from 48 balls, Bairstow reeled off 10 fours and seven sixes from his next 44, the majority of them slammed into the short leg-side boundary at the Bridgford Road side of the ground.
“I’m not sure about ‘picking the right ball’,” he said. “Strip it back, it’s only you and the bowler there. That’s the bit that sometimes gets complicated. If you strip it back, and just watch the ball, that’s the zone right there, and you have to get in it.
A staggering 1675 runs were scored across the five days of the Test – second only to the 1948 Ashes Test at Headingley – and Bairstow said that England took extra confidence in the fourth innings from the exploits that had preceded it.
“When there’s been so many runs scored in the game, you don’t look at it as a record run-chase, you look at it as an opportunity to chase down a total,” he said. “We saw it as a one-day game.
“The pitch was very good, outfield was fast, and that’s how you have to look at it. If you take a negative mentality, then all of sudden you’re apprehensive. We have a positive approach, and the players who can play that brand of cricket, and that never-say-die attitude, and the ever-evolving confidence that people have got in that dressing room, allowed people to go and flourish.
“And I tell you what, days like this are very exciting,” he added. “If this is happening now, let’s see what’s going to happen in the next few weeks and next few months, because it’s going to be a journey.”
England’s chase was made all the more special thanks to the decision by Nottinghamshire to allow free entry for this final day, and Bairstow paid tribute to that decision while acknowledging that – of all his nine Test hundreds – this one clearly stood out the most.
“This is No.1 for me, it’d be tricky not to be,” he said. “There’s been a lot of chatter around England’s Test cricket over a few years, some of it’s been harsh, but I’m hugely proud about how we’ve gone about it in the last few years [of Covid etc]. It has enabled us to get closer as a group, and if we can keep that momentum, the sky is the limit.”
Stokes, England’s captain, now has two wins from two – and England’s first series victory since January 2021 – after inheriting a team from Joe Root that had won just one in its previous 17. And afterwards he paid tribute to his entire team, not least the bowling unit that had rattled New Zealand in the third innings, and enabled England to hunt down a sub-300 target.
“I’ve got to give credit to the boys for all five days, with the ball, and the bat, and in the field. It was a phenomenal performance,” he said. “Today was set up absolutely perfectly for how we want to go about it. Run into the danger, rather than back away or stand still.
“That’s what we did today. Not just myself and Jonny there. Credit to Leesy [Alex Lees] at the top again, two really important knocks for the team again, everyone at some stage has put their hand up and contributed.
“Test cricket isn’t necessarily about what you’ve seen there, but you’ve still got to execute your skills, and we wanted to put pressure back on their attack. And once Jonny gets his “Jonny eyes”, there’s no stopping him.”
One concern for England came when Stokes appeared to jar his troublesome left knee while coming down the wicket, but he insisted afterwards that it was “fine”.
Stokes also thanked Nottinghamshire for opening the gates to the public – “don’t under-estimate the power of a home crowd,” he said – and when asked what’s next, he replied: “Headingley … We’re going to come harder.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket