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England v New Zealand: 'Jonny Bairstow revels in life on the England rollercoaster'

When new managing director Rob Key told England fans last month to “buckle up and get ready for the ride”, surely not even he could have expected this.

First came Lord’s. A mere 277 to beat New Zealand on the final day? “Not a chance with this batting line-up,” most people said.

Joe Root serenely guided them home.

Then there was Trent Bridge. How about 299 in 72 overs? “OK, they’ll give it a go but it’s going to be a draw.”

Knocked off with 22 overs to spare.

And now comes Headingley.

Top-order wickets tumbled with such regularity and England batters fell over in such crooked fashion on the second day of the third Test that you could be forgiven for thinking you had rewound to a time when Gareth Southgate was still a national hero.

With England 55-6 in reply to 329, had their careering approach under the new Ben Stokes-Brendon McCullum regime appeared to have suffered its first shuddering reality check?

Pundits were already grumbling.

“Rubbish,” was the cry from former captain Michael Vaughan when Stokes smashed straight to mid-off to fall for an eyebrow-raising 18 off 13 balls. “Completely disrespecting Test cricket.”

The analysis of Stokes’ demise may be correct, but this is ‘new England’ and they are riding a rollercoaster that, rather than slowing down, has found its latest way to thrill.

Whereas previously they would have folded, they instead attacked, ending the day 264-6 – only 65 behind New Zealand and well in a game that appeared all but gone.

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Jonny Bairstow, who cantered to 130 not out a week after his staggering 77-ball century in Nottingham, epitomises the transformation.

A naturally aggressive player, he has spent the majority of his Test career being told he must reign himself in. Now he has a captain who last week told him not to “even think about keeping the ball down”.

The result has been extraordinary.

Test centuries scored at a rate better than a run a ball are supposed to be as rare as British winners at Wimbledon. Bairstow has two in 10 days.

“You can either go into your shell and bat the way in which people have done for years and years, and try and survive. But when you have bowlers like Trent Boult and Tim Southee bowling so well you need to transfer the momentum and take them off their lengths,” Bairstow said.

First the boundaries cracked off Bairstow’s bat, guiding the seamers behind square, easing drives down the ground and slog-sweeping spinner Michael Bracewell.

Then debutant Jamie Overton joined in, the Surrey fast bowler clubbing Neil Wagner into the leg side as he contributed 89 to an unbroken stand of 209 in only 37 overs. Mild approval turned to raucous support and then to utter disbelief.

Yorkshire, a place where good technique and pragmatism is appreciated like a pair of long-lasting jeans, had rows of spectators – some dressed like Snow White after a rough night out – deliriously chanting Bairstow’s name.

As the noise increased outside, each trip along the Headingley media centre corridors involved passing a seasoned commentator shrugging, struggling to comprehend what was happening on the pitch.

It is hard to believe that barely five months have passed since many of the same England players stood, beaten and gaunt, in the Tasmania night after their final Ashes humiliation was inflicted by Australia.

Now, led by Stokes and McCullum, they resemble a band of carefree university students – one day enjoying the late-night delights of a Nottingham takeawayexternal-link, another whooping in delight as one of their mates smashes three of the world’s best fast bowlers around the park.

It will go wrong – every rollercoaster breaks down at some point – but in two a half games at least this England team, possibly when it is needed more than ever, are reminding their fans why they love this wonderful game.

“It is a bit too early to say redefine,” said Bairstow, when asked whether England want to change the way Test cricket is played.

“It is still in an infancy – we are only a couple of games into it.

“But what I will say is we are looking to take the game forward and take the positive option, whether that be with the ball or the bat. We are looking to take wickets. We are looking to impose ourselves at the crease and put pressure back on to the bowlers.”

England may still lose this Test, but either way make sure those buckles are fastened tight.

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