The news of the birth of his first child came as a blessing for Rory Burns but in the same year, also came as a piece of bad news, that he was dropped from the English setup for the first time after a string of failures against India in the sub-continent.
April 8, 2021, Rory Burns and Mark Stoneman walk out to bat, for Surrey against Gloucestershire. In another year, it would have been a normal first-class game for Burns but it was 2021. The task just became tougher but for him, it was an opportunity to redeem himself after his first experience of Indian summer, where he suffered.
Fast-forward to June 5, 2021, Burns is on the verge of a maiden century in Lord’s, on 77, where BJ Watling messes up one of the simplest stumpings to give him a reprieve. Later on, in the same session, he gets tonked twice on the helmet, bent. Another drop, at 88, the stars seem to be written in his favour. But fortune favours the brave!
In the early half of the year, after missing the celebrations of the English team winning away in the subcontinent, against Sri Lanka, the 30-year-old joined the camp in India, with a goal in mind - to conquer the shores. Following scores of 33, 0, 0 and 25, he had learnt what it was to be visiting batsmen in the sub-continent, especially facing the arduous task of taming the spinners. He also learnt for the first time what it was to be dropped from the national setup and it just took just two consecutive failures and four innings for the nightmare to become reality. Suddenly, the year went from all smiles to pale faces, with it extending to become red after his Twitter incident with Alex Hartley. Burns was indeed burning, from the sudden fact that he was not anymore inevitable, home or away.
An ace up his sleeve
The Surrey skipper, however, had his cards close to his pocket, the County Championship, which has been long-standing his ‘ace’ up his sleeve. In two-and-a-half years of being in the Test side, Burns always showed the character, composure and grit to walk out as England’s opener, replacing departing opener Alastair Cook. His status as a gritty, reliable and temperamental batsman in England had slowly started to vanish or to say, his credibility had started to run out of credit. It wasn’t just the Indian show that had resulted in the decision, his form had started to wither out starting from the series against Pakistan. Scores of 4, 10, 0 and 6 weren’t enough to suffice his place anymore, with Dominic Sibley and Zak Crawley showcasing their form.
However, the ‘ace’ that he had meant that he was still in the game, silenced now. In other words, he had to retake his guard, in a way to prevent him from letting himself, his country down in high-pressure situations. A home average of 34.66 wasn’t going to be enough to replenish his credits in the British bank and having gone a year without a century, it was just meant to be tougher.
"We were all pretty happy with that group of players and now, because of a unique series against India, it's all of a sudden, 'should he be slung out, should he be slung out?' I would be very surprised if Burnsy doesn't score heavily for us in these first seven Championship games. And I'd be even more surprised if he's not walking out to bat alongside Sibley in the first Test match," Alec Stewart, Surrey's director of cricket had predicted earlier, talking to ESPN Cricinfo.
There is often a saying that goes in the County Championship, backed against the wall, Surrey’s skipper Rory Burns makes a comeback. But a comeback wasn’t going to suffice, this time around, he needed to bring that goddamn wall down, with his performance and not words. In a way, it was a pretty timely ‘reset’ button that he had to press and what better way to do it, than County itself, where he made his mark in the first place.
After four innings in the County season, Burns had scores of 4, 74, 36 and 8, which wasn’t going to raffirm his status as the first-choice opener in the country. The wake-up alarm had gotten to him, he had no choice but to step up. In the series of games, that started from the clash against Middlesex, Burns stepped up, posting scores of 54, 80, 75, 55, 64 and then a unbeaten 104.
He walked into the home summer a lot more confident, not just because of the fact that he got to see his daughter but also because he had slowly started earning the credits back, the bank was slowly becoming heavier. In between all of this, it was safe to say that he was a good banker, to begin the home season as the first-choice opener.
Rory Burns and Dom Sibley walked out - England trailed by 378 runs but the conditions suddenly saw a lot more offer for the bowlers. Suddenly, the Three Lions found themselves in a position of bother, at home, with the score reading 18/2. 7,000 fans at the venue were shocked looking at how the batsmen had responded to New Zealand’s batting display and moreso, looking at the way they were panicking.
England’s top-order was no more the force that they were once upon a time - the fans saw that, the commentators saw that and Burns could see the criticism around the corner. Perhaps, that came as a guiding call for the left-hander, who quickly turned away from his early troubles into an extended opportunity for himself. Wickets fell in heaps around him but the solid defence remained unperturbed, along with Root, who seemingly countered one punch with another.
The Surrey leader was rock-solid and with every passing delivery, even better when he looked crabby with the defence of his, with the sole vision of proving the world that outside noise wouldn’t affect him one bit. When he got himself to that mini-landmark, there wasn’t any celebration, there was hardly the bat rise but what was evident there was his hunger and eagerness to leave a mark. However, rain poured down a day of action, leading to Burns and Root walking out to a daunting task.
New Zealand bowlers made the English batters pay the price for their lacklustre batting. Suddenly, they found themselves crawling at 140/6, all specialist batsmen had already departed, leaving Burns and Ollie Robinson with a whole lot of work to do. The Surrey opener was on 66 off 172 deliveries, looking as solid as New Zealand’s Devon Conway if not more.
On Saturday, with every passing challenge, Burns stood unperturbed, yet again but this time, on his English road to revival when the other batsmen were hell-bent on digging their own golden graves. Bent, smashed, tonked on the helmet twice in the same innings, dropped, missed stumping, everything was aligning - for a Burns century.
When he was still at 98, needing two more runs for a well-deserved century, his first at Lord’s, it was No.11, James Anderson, on strike. Kyle Jamieson was in full flow, he tried to bounce the southpaw twice but Anderson held on as the crowd obliged, with loud applause. There he was, in full glory, slicing it off to the third man and when he removed his helmet, there it was, the ponytail, the hard work, the sweat and most importantly, the sweetest century for the Surrey-man.
On two days where the rest of his teammates looked weak and timid, Rory Burns stood unperturbed on the English road to revival, with his third century in the English whites. Not just that, Rory Joseph Burns had also got his name on the Lord’s board of honour for the first time!