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Jonny Bairstow, Michael Jackson

Mike [Jackson] grinned. The fact was that he had far too good an opinion of himself to be nervous. An entirely modest person seldom makes a good batsman. Batting is one of those things which demand first and foremost a thorough belief in oneself. It need not be aggressive, but it must be there.

from Mike (1909)

Jonny Bairstow must have been experiencing a similar self-satisfaction as he swatted around the New Zealand bowlers at Trent Bridge in the 2nd Test on June 14, 2022. In fact, his 77-ball century in England’s second innings came within a hair’s-breadth of beating a 120-year-old record established by Gilbert Jessop at the Oval in 1902 against Australia, whose ton took only 76. Had fellow-batsman Ben Stokes not turned down a second run off a misfield, or if Bairstow hadn’t blocked his next delivery, history would have been made. But alas, it wasn’t quite, and Jessop’s record still stands. But that mighty innings all those years ago also had consequences Jessop could never have imagined.

In the crowd that morning was a young bank clerk, P.G. Wodehouse, who had taken time off work to attend the test match. It was the third and final day, and England had been set a steep second-innings target of 263 to win. The pitch was moist and tricky to play, and even Jessop was sceptical the home team could match the visitors’ total. This was borne out when England slumped to 48 for 5 and when lunch was called, Wodehouse decided to call it a day and return to the office: England had only made it as far as 87, and the Australians had all afternoon to take the five remaining wickets. There was, in his view, nothing to stick around for.

It was soon after he left that Jessop started his incredible knock, and 75 minutes later the game was transformed, England reaching the required total with a wicket to spare. It would be 20 years before the BBC even existed, so a deeply frustrated Wodehouse probably read the match report in the London evening papers, later telling a friend that if working 9 to 5 meant missing games like that, he really ought to risk ditching the bank and pursuing his dream as a freelance writer. A month later on September 9, he did just that, and a few days later his first article for Punch magazine was published, swiftly followed by his debut novel The Pothunters. And the rest is history.

Or maybe not quite. Eleven years later in 1913, Plum would travel to Cheltenham to see Gloucestershire play Warwickshire, where he would witness the tidy bowling of one Percy Jeeves.

What Ho! P. G. Wodehouse on Sport off the presses and on its way.

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