August 8, 2021 8:46:50 am
Joe Root drove Shardul Thakur past mid-on and let out his emotions. His batting form had dipped since mid-February. His captaincy has been under the scanner. At the pre-match press conference, Root was asked about if the next 10 Tests – five against India followed by five in the Ashes – could determine his captaincy future. The England captain didn’t brush aside the question and sort of agreed that the results in the two high-profile series might have a bearing. Then again, he is not an average Joe and his masterclass gave his team a chance at Trent Bridge.
Root’s 21st Test century, his first in England in three years, was one of the best of his 106-game career. For the first time in four days, the sun shone unfettered and play was uninterrupted. The pitch and conditions became easier for batting. But Root was up against a top-class Indian pace attack spearheaded by Jasprit Bumrah, who bagged a five-for in England’s second innings to announce his return to form after the World Test Championship (WTC) final lull. The hosts posted 303 in their second innings to give India a victory target of 209. Root scored 109 of those runs.
— BCCI (@BCCI) August 7, 2021
India made a strong start to the chase but lost KL Rahul to finish Day 4 at 52/1.
It was a gripping day of Test cricket; a day which in Indian sporting context belonged to Neeraj Chopra. Not often does an India-England game gets overshadowed by other sports events, but 87.58m has now been etched in sporting history.
From England’s point of view, however, Root held the key to the day. At 46/2 and trailing by 95 runs on first innings, trouble beckoned. After a streaky four against Bumrah to get off the mark, Root steadily grew into the game. A stiff breeze was blowing across the ground and Mohammed Siraj was getting his inswingers going. England’s batting talisman attested his intent with a couple of gorgeous boundaries against the bowler. Back-to-back fours off Mohammed Shami were even better. Root was taking the game to India.
Virat Kohli tried to keep his opposite number off strike and attack the dour Dom Sibley. The ploy nearly worked. For a while, Root’s batting became a little twitchy. He regained his rhythm by hitting a four off Shami that also took him to his half-century.
Kohli versus James Anderson is not the only subplot of the series. This is also Root’s challenge to go shoulder to shoulder with his ‘Fab Four’ mates – Kohli, Kane Williamson and Steve Smith. This was his 10th Test hundred as England skipper. Only Peter May, Graham Gooch and Alastair Cook are ahead of him.
Back to his best
Bumrah copped flak for his performance in the WTC final. Coming back to the red-ball fold after a few months, the fast bowler was undercooked against New Zealand in June. Now, he is back in his element. The delivery that dismissed a well-set Root pitched on the fifth-stump channel and angled in, carrying the extra bounce of the second new ball. Root edged it to Rishabh Pant behind the stumps.
Sam Curran’s scalp was equally important. The left-hander, as is his wont, was frustrating India. England’s lead was swelling alarmingly. Bumrah accounted for Curran with a short delivery that cramped the latter for room. A brilliant yorker castled Stuart Broad next ball. The pacer finished with 5/64 from 19 overs on top of his 4/46 in the first innings.
England had one significant partnership – 89 runs between Root and Sibley for the third wicket – surrounded by a few more useful associations. Root’s partners were letting him down. Jonny Bairstow looked good, but pulled a Siraj half-tracker straight to Ravindra Jadeja at deep square leg. The field positioning suggested that India were expecting it. Dan Lawrence, after playing a superb shot, shuffled a little too far across against Thakur to be trapped leg-before. Jos Buttler shouldered arm to an incoming delivery from Thakur to be bowled.
From India’s perspective, all 20 wickets in the match went to their fast bowlers. The pace quartet did their job, although Shami didn’t have a good day on Saturday. Another 157 runs are required for victory on the final day, as the onus shifts to the batsmen.