Jonny Bairstow: England-South Africa World Cup double will be ‘great spectacle’
Jonny Bairstow is relishing his role in a rare World Cup double as England and South Africa prepare for high-stakes battles on the cricket pitch and the rugby field within a matter of hours on Saturday.
Bairstow will be leading from the front in Mumbai, where his side look to put their creaking title defence back on track against the Proteas, before attention turns to events almost 4,500 miles away in Paris and the Rugby World Cup semi-final between England and the Springboks.
Bairstow is a huge rugby fan and was even invited to address the England squad ahead of last year’s autumn international against Argentina at Twickenham, chatting to the squad for over an hour before observing training.
Now he hopes to set the tone for a day of English celebrations by the time Steve Borthwick’s men kick off.
“I think it’s going to be a great spectacle, it’s going to be a great day for both nations,” he said.
“They’re two extremely proud nations, whether that’s on the rugby front or the cricketing front, two teams on both sides that are very passionate about playing for their countries and are excited about playing for their countries.
“You’ll have people in South Africa, I’m sure, having a few brandy and Cokes and a couple of braais (barbecues), and you’ll have a few in England popping down the pub and watching – any excuse for them to just pop down there!
“It will be great – and hopefully both results go our way.”
Bairstow can only directly impact one of them, of course, and the importance of his role at the top of the batting order is shaping up to be a key one.
Defeats to New Zealand and Afghanistan, either side of victory over Bangladesh, have put England firmly on the back foot and cranked up the stakes on their visit to the Wankhede Stadium.
Head coach Matthew Mott has called for more aggression in the first 15 overs of both innings and Bairstow has the track record and firepower to oblige.
But he is clear that swinging blindly for the fences is not on the cards, with conditions in India calling for more nuance.
“I don’t see anyone else in the world going out and scoring at nine runs an over. You look at India, they don’t go out and just go balls to the wall in the first 10 and they’re the host nation,” he said.
“They don’t just go out and go from ball one. So the importance of the first 10 is to yes score quickly, but also score in a way that’s sustainable over a long period of time, because we’re not playing a T20 game, we’re playing a 50-over game.
“Playing cricket in India compared to playing cricket in England is different. There’s different styles that work all around the world. I don’t think there’s one thing that fits all.”
While England are licking their wounds after being upset by the Afghans, South Africa are nursing a similar blow to their pride after defeat the Netherlands. That has added another layer of intrigue to the clash as both sets of players desperately try to reset the narrative.
“We know it’s a big game, we know they’re a strong nation and they’ve been playing well, but we also know now they’re coming off a loss as well,” Bairstow said.
“That was a great result to wake up to. But we’re actually just focusing on ourselves. That’s what we do.
“The confidence is there – it’s unwavering. There’s no lack of belief within this group. It isn’t something that’s been questioned one bit.”
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