Beauty in the battle as Rory Burns shows his resolve

Birmingham is not a classically beautiful city. Unlike Paris, for example, it was bombed heavily in the war. And afterwards it was rebuilt hurriedly and cheaply to ensure its factories continued to supply the country that had come to rely on it.

For it was here that the Spitfire was built. Here where the munitions were made that helped defeat the Nazi empire. Here where, the night after a bombing raid that lasted 13 hours in 1940, the synagogue in the centre of the city opened its doors and offered its help to the community. Here where the computer, the pen, the whistle and the internet have their roots. Here where the first world's oldest cricket league was established and here where the first plastics - cellulose-based, so biodegradable - were invented. Elgar and Shakespeare lived locally. Unions were born in the region and the city became a model for the multicultural community.

Now, if you're the sort who thinks of beauty in terms of sunsets and white teeth, in terms of Instagram 'influencers' and Love Island contestants, this may not mean much. But maybe, in an unconventional way, there is beauty aplenty in Birmingham, its history, its invention and its people.

So maybe it was fitting that this was the scene for Rory Burns' maiden Test century. He is not, by any means, a classically beautiful batsman. He plays, unlike Joe Denly, few of those elegant strokes that have a crowd purring their approval. And in this innings he had a control percentage of just 75 per cent; remarkably low for a Test centurion. 34 times he played and missed. Only Joe Root, of England players, has a century - the one against Australia at Cardiff in 2015 - with a higher false shot percentage in the CricViz database.

But this was an innings, in its way, all the more impressive for those very reasons. While other England openers of recent times may have become flustered by the regularity of ball beating bat, Burns has the priceless ability to put such moments behind him and concentrate on the next delivery. And while many of the words used to describe have an air of faint compliment about them - ungainly, limited, resilient and phlegmatic - they could also have been used to describe Alastair Cook. And his career worked out OK, didn't it?

Burns came into this match under considerable pressure. It wasn't just that he hadn't made 30 in his previous six Tests innings, it was that his dismissals at Lord's - particularly his second-innings dismissal, where he reached to defend a wide delivery and edged behind - did not befit an opening batsmen. Many prominent pundits recommended dropping him and there was concern about him from the England management.

Burns knew all this. But he didn't fret about it any more than he wasted energy worrying about those balls beating his bat. Instead, he avoided the newspapers - "I stuck my head in the sand," as he put it - cleared his mind and went for several sessions with the man who had coached him since he was six years old. Neil Stewart is not as well-known as his brother Alec or his dad Micky, but several generations of Surrey batsmen swear by him. And somewhere in those sessions, he reminded Burns of the qualities that have made him one of the top run-scores in Division One of the County Championship in each of the last three seasons.

So Burns was more compact here. And while he was beaten really quite often, he ensured he played the line of the ball and did not follow it. And even when it seemed he was stuck on 99 - he spent 10 balls there; only two England batsmen have spent longer on the score this century - he retained his composure and waited for the ball that was in one of his scoring areas. One he could turn, nudge, nurdle or drop into a gap. By stumps he had recorded the fifth century by an England opener in their last 100 Test innings and the first in the first Test of a home Ashes since Graham Gooch in 1993.

He had some fortune. He was lucky to survive a leg-before appeal off Nathan Lyon on 21 - had Australia reviewed, he would have been out - and three or four times, he flashed outside off stump. But he wasn't dropped, he didn't tire and he will resume, in the morning, for his seventh session in succession on the field.

"I just tried to stay true to what has got me here," Burns said. "I just tried to stay level. I wasn't tired; I've done that [bat all day] before in county cricket. But it's quite a slow, attritional wicket and, in a way, that probably suits how I go about my business. It was nice to just keep going on the treadmill and be as stubborn as I could be."

There may be a lesson here. Burns has, in many ways, developed the tough way: he wasn't drafted straight onto the Surrey staff and he didn't play lots of England age-group cricket. Instead he went to university - he was a product of the MCCU system at Cardiff - played club cricket overseas and found his own way to do things over years in county cricket. A method that is built on resilience and mental strength as much as it is range of stroke and natural ability. Maturing through those institutions may have been key.

He has a series of unusual trigger movements which he has worked out for himself. It includes an odd peer towards the leg side, as if the midwicket fielder has just said something appalling about his parentage, as the bowler runs in, a flourish of the hands as he completes his backlift and a stance which suggests he is mooning the square-leg umpire. But there is logic in there: the jerk towards the leg side is to ensure his head is level and his dominant eye is trained on the ball; the flourish of the hands is to ensure his wrists are relaxed and do not push at the ball and the stance is to ensure he is balanced. "You wouldn't coach kids to do it that way," he said with a smile afterward. "But sometimes you have to scrap."

Now compare that to James Vince. Who looks pleasing. Who oozes class. Who graduated, at every stage, through England systems and was seen as a future star from his teenage years. But on the evidence of what we've seen so far, who looks to have the game - the mentality as much as the technique - to succeed in Test cricket? Sometimes aesthetics can fool us into making the wrong judgments about players.

Cricket is an odd game for spectators. Many of those making their way to the ground in the morning would have been excited for the day ahead yet delighted to reach lunch and then tea having experienced some uneventful cricket. There was none of the drama of the Ireland Test at Lord's. Instead it was wonderfully, reassuringly incident free. The run-rate - 2.96 over the course of the innings so far - is England's sixth lowest in any Test innings since April 2016. And yet it was, from an England perspective, arguably as encouraging a day with the bat as they have enjoyed this year.

For this contribution from Burns - and Root, to be fair, who set a fine example by taking 70 balls to hit his first boundary - was exactly what England have required for years.

They have been down the route of taking the attack to bowlers. They have experimented with aggressive openers and attempting to hit bowlers off their length. It took them nowhere. Instead they have taken the more old-fashioned route here: they've waited they've accumulated and they've started to ground down an attack that already looks a bowler short. Saturday presents a great opportunity to build a match-defining position.

Burns has given them the platform. And, from an England perspective, what a beautiful platform it is.