As cricket fans raise a seasonal glass or two to the England team at the end of a memorable 2011, those players who have achieved No 1 Test status must be wary of two northern lads capable of emptying bars faster than any call of “Time, gentlemen please”.
Last orders may not be imminent for England’s middle order, but the time cannot be far away when room will have to be found for both Durham’s Ben Stokes and Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow.
Stokes is not quite so flame-haired as Bairstow but he is equally as capable of lighting up an arena with his powerful strokeplay. In fact, when they do eventually bat together it is not difficult to envisage a rivalry developing over who can strike the ball harder and further.
At 22, Bairstow is two years older than Stokes but in England terms the Durham all-rounder might well have been ahead had he not suffered an injury setback last May.
After making his England one-day debut on his return to action it was realised that the operation to repair his badly dislocated finger had been only a partial success and he was sent to the United States to make sure the job was done properly.
He is expected to be fit for the start of next season but could not be considered for the England Lions tour to Bangladesh next month, which involves Bairstow and his Yorkshire team-mate Joe Root, plus Durham’s Scott Borthwick.
While Stokes is powerfully built, as might be expected as the son of a New Zealand Rugby League prop forward, when Bairstow first played for Yorkshire he was notably lean in comparison with his late father, David.
But after going into the 2011 season without a hundred to his name, Jonny began to fill out and add muscular blows to his elegant strokes.
He hit two County Championship centuries, a hundred in the Clydesdale Bank 40, another for England Lions and rounded it off with a 53-ball century for England against the Hyderabad Cricket Association in October. He also scored a match-winning 41 not out on his one-day international debut against India in Cardiff in September.
Whether he will ever be good enough to keep wicket in Test cricket remains to be seen and the same doubt could be expressed about Stokes’ bowling. He hasn’t been able to bowl since his injury, but his six-wicket haul in the first match of last season at the Rose Bowl had confirmed his potential to be the new Freddie Flintoff.
Stokes is capable of being genuinely quick and if both he and Bairstow continue to develop the second strings to their bow they will provide England with a great depth of all-round talent in the middle order.
Bairstow scored his maiden first-class hundred against Nottinghamshire in May, a year after Stokes achieved the same feat at the same venue. While Stokes immediately holed out in the deep, Bairstow converted his innings at Trent Bridge into a double century.
But Stokes learnt quickly and when he again reached three figures in the next match at Canterbury he remained unbeaten on 161. He scored three more Championship centuries before his injury this year, starting with the innings in which he hit the first five balls of an over from Liam Dawson for six at the Rose Bowl.
He made 185 in the home match against Lancashire, in which he was injured, and had become the first player to score 150 for Durham in a one-day game. That was in the CB40 league at Edgbaston, where he hammered seven sixes in his unbeaten 150 off 113 balls.
Stokes has spent most of the winter so far at home in Cockermouth, in Cumbria. But his father Ged is reputedly a hard task-master when it comes to fitness and the chances are that Ben will emerge even stronger in the 2012 season.
He and Bairstow will surely have roles to play in England’s one-day and Twenty20 teams, while Test debuts cannot be too far away.