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“Actually, I had the best sleep I have had in the last month. I had trained hard on a hot day and I got a fair amount of kips in last (Tuesday) night. It did me real good today,” Joe Root laughs as he shares the secret of his fluent ton with The Indian Express. Root is known to struggle to get much sleep in during Test matches. At times, apparently, he can go through an entire night sleepless, turning and tossing around. He might not be thinking of cricket but the buzz of being involved in one would just refuse to die down. Not on Tuesday night, though, and India were left with the nightmares on the field. Catch the live cricket updates of IND vs ENG, 1st Test, Day 2 here
Root is one of those characters you read in old cricket books from England. He is anachronistic in that sense, vastly different from the millennials in the pre-Brexit UK. A cricket-obsessed kid and a ‘badger’ who would sponge up cricketing knowledge from anyone around him, he started to dream about playing for England when he was 14. It was a Pakistani who fed the ambition in him at a curry house. A former player Nadeem Khan, who owned that restaurant, told Root that he had the talent to play for England but wasn’t working as hard as he should. A surprised Root effected the turnaround.
Moeen Ali, the other England batsman who grounded out the Indian bowlers with an unbeaten 99, also came in his teens. It was a West Indian who did it. When he was 19, during the month of Ramadan, Ali, who was a ‘fiery little bugger’ to use his brother Kadeer’s words, met up with a West Indian supporter Wally Mohammad, who had just converted to Islam. “By that Ramadan, almost overnight, he was a different man,” Kadeer told this newspaper.
The brother was surprised but very pleased with the turnaround. “Moeen wasn’t a calm boy, growing up, but as he has gotten older and deeper into religion, he has grown a lot calmer and it has had a great effect on his cricket, and life.” Together, Root and Ali have put England in great position, though through contrasting ways.
Rarely has India, especially in the recent times, seen a foreign batsman use the crease as much as Root did on the first day at Rajkot. When the ball demanded of him, he pressed well forward to smother any turn, and when the ball was slightly back of length, he swiftly moved back to punch and nurdle.
Root is a tall man but somehow you rarely get to sense it on the telly for he seems to strive hard to curb it. The lego legs almost bend and twist when he walks, and at the crease, he crouches in a slightly wide stance.
Perhaps, it also relates to his teen days. When he was 19, he had a growth spurt, and he shot up in height. It ended up affecting his form as he had started to fall around in the crease. Some quick technical adjustments from his coach Kevin Sharp put him back on track.
It’s an interesting stance. He is crouched for most part until suddenly just before the bowler releases, he shoots up to his full frame. Root used it really well on Wednesday. He stretched well forward, the upper body leaning inexorably forward, and he didn’t have much problem in killing the little spin that was on offer. When R Ashwin & Co adjusted the length, he was quick to press back, and would stand tall to punch. At times, his back foot was almost touching the stumps.
Without much help from the track, and with Root switching effortlessly from front to back, the Indian spinners were nullified.
Ali took a different approach — he hardly went back at all. He just kept moving forward towards the little red thing swirling across to him. The lack of sharp turn allowed him to let his wrists handle any small deviation even as he was moving forward. At times, Ashwin tried his best to rip it quicker and slightly back of length but Ali worked his wrists overtime to tap, turn, and push them away. He might not find it as easy in the second innings but England would take this knock that has set them up really nicely.
By late afternoon, India started to fall back to defensive ploys to try and buy a wicket — a long-on, a deep cover, or a long-off was a constant presence. By then Ali had started to go down the track frequently to on-drive. Root, too, had started to press forward, and the drives began to flow.
The only thing that could perhaps have created some problems was reverse swing, but with the untimely injury to Mohammad Shami, who had to be off the field pre and post tea, they had to just see out Umesh Yadav.
The hundred eased up another concern of Root — that he wasn’t converting the starts. “It feels good that I went on to get a hundred this time. I have been guilty of getting out in the past,” Root said. His conversion rate has been a prickly issue with him, so much so that he once said until he converts well, he shouldn’t be rated as one of the top batsmen in the world. “It is nice for people to say you are up there with AB (de Villiers), Steve Smith and (Virat) Kohli but…the best players win Tests, and at the minute I am getting good scores but not going on.”
Last time he played India, Ali was bothered by the bouncers but the Indian seamers didn’t try much after initially suggesting they might give that ploy a fair go. A short-leg was in place, and Sami tried a couple but the seamers didn’t persist with it after Ali tackled them without much fuss on this track. The bouncers were a problem from his early days, and his brother Kadeer recalls the drills done to try correcting it. “We dipped rubber balls in water and would hurl at him for couple of hours. My brother is a real hard worker. He was always a confident guy but he began to work extra hard on his cricket.”
A Yorkshire boy who was made to realise his own talent by a Pakistani, and a son of an immigrant from Mirpur in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir who was re-introduced to his faith by a West Indian, put India on a leather hunt at Rajkot, and allowed England to bounce back from the tough times faced in Bangladesh.