A Clear Blue Sky is not a premature autobiography of Johnny Bairstow. It is not a biography of his father David Bairstow. It is not a study into the pitfalls facing a sportsman on entering retirement.
This is an extraordinary, and sometimes confronting book about how an eight year old boy came home one dreary Yorkshire night in January to find his father hanging from the stairs. He was with his mother and younger sister at the time.
This story is about how the family collectively went about rebuilding their lives and, in Johnny’s case, about how he went about his career making his father proud.
David Bairstow had been going through that tough post career phase that is finally getting more attention. He had suffered recent bereavements, he suffered chronic pain from years of being a wicket-keeper, his wife was going through the early stages of chemotherapy and he was facing a drink driving charge that would affect his income earning ability.
He was cut free from Yorkshire aged 38, yet he thought he had a couple of seasons left in him. The politics of Yorkshire Cricket Club thought otherwise.
Young Johnny had to go through all of this, and had to support his mother during her battles. The one common thread to come through in this book is that this was one close, stoic family.
He performed family duties beyond his years, formed close relationships with his wider family, and got on with life.
On one hand he found out as much as he could about his father yet stubbornly walked in his footsteps without total walking in his footsteps. For example, he only picked up the wicket keeping gloves when he was 17.
The book is co-written with the respected and award winning author Duncan Hamilton, and it really shows. For a start the range of vocabulary stands out, but the way he interweaves the careers of Bairstows Snr and Jnr are quite special.
The best example of this is the entwinement of David’s tour of the West Indies in 1981 and Johnny’s encounter with Mitch Johnson’s 2013 Australians. Travelling sides falling apart; Ken Barrington’s passing v Jonathan’s Trott’s exit; and the pressure of fast bowling and fear.
The juxtaposition of father and son hell experiences is well told.
Then there is the Ian Bell connection. As a teenager Johnny was transfixed, as was all of the cricketing world, by the 2005 Ashes. His favourite player was, understandably, Ian Bell. Eight years later he would make his Ashes debut. When he walked out to bat the batsman at the other end was … Ian Bell.
The long term friendship with James Taylor is also fascinating, and would be ruined with some spoilers
There was the other bond between father and son; probably the biggest of them all. Yorkshire.
People from this end of the world struggle to understand the Yorkshire thing. In fact people from the UK outside of Yorkshire probably fail to understand it too. But there is no cricket establishment below test playing level that has the same sense of belonging and loyalty.
His proudest moment was when the photo of his Yorkshire winning the Championship was placed in the players’ tunnel above the one of his father’s Yorkshire winning the John Player Cup.
And his proudest epitaph was that his father was said to be the player most unequivocally popular in Yorkshire.
You can’t help but warm to the guy and his battles after reading this. Get hold of a copy unless you’re playing for NZ in February and March.
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