Jonathan Agnew: 'Brilliant Bairstow is up for the fight'

By Jonathan AgnewBBC cricket correspondent
England v Sri Lanka, third Test, day one
England 279-6: Bairstow 107*, Cook 85, Herath 2-43
Sri Lanka: Yet to bat

As soon as Jonny Bairstow walked down the pavilion steps at Lord's on Thursday afternoon, you could see a man ready to make runs.

It wasn't just his body language, although that spoke of a batsman in form - confident, deliberate, not intimidated by either the august surroundings or the somewhat dire situation his side were in.

It wasn't just his attitude, although he looked ready to hit the ball from the word go. And it wasn't just in his sharp running, which both sped along his innings of 107 not out and started to take back the initiative from the Sri Lankan bowlers.

It was in both the way he attacked the bad balls and defended the good.

It might sound a strange thing to say, but as a batsman you can be very positive in defence. When a struggling batsman's forward defensive can resemble a prod, the batsman in form makes his a very deliberate action, the front foot moving quickly and the head over the ball.

His leave-alones look exactly the same, not submission to the bowler's superiority but a challenge, a deliberate indication of being in control.

Throughout his last six Test matches, during which he has scored his first three Test centuries. Bairstow has frequently come to the crease with his side in trouble.

On Thursday, England were 84-4 but he again was able to cope with that situation and turn it around, rather than becoming the next man into the slump, because he has both the character and now the technique to prosper.

His father David was pugnacious. He could have great fun, and he played cricket with a smile, but underneath he was as hard as nails. Jonny is the same. When he finds himself in a fight, he's up for it.

He is happy with his game at the moment, and he is riding a rich vein of form. When you are in that mood you will boss it, and your opponents will start to retreat far sooner than they otherwise might.

You saw it on Thursday. Sri Lanka, on a pitch made for batting, had managed to once again get rid of four prime English wickets with fewer than 100 runs on the board. They had England on the ropes when Alastair Cook's men should have been accelerating away.

Yet within a few balls of Bairstow arriving at the crease, the third slip had been taken out and pushed into the covers. The tourists have been bruised by him before, and you could tell.

He rode his luck. He should have been caught on 11, and the lbw appeal when he had just passed his half-century was as close as it can come. But he saw those chances and told himself that today was simply going to be his day. England, as a result, closed on 279-6.

Contrast that to the careworn figure of Nick Compton, who appears to be carrying the world on his shoulders, and you see two batsmen heading in very different directions.

Jonny Bairstow wagon wheel
Jonny Bairstow scored the majority of his runs square of the wicket

Jonathan Agnew was talking to BBC Sport chief sports writer Tom Fordyce.