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Sunday, September 19, 2021

2nd Test, Day 3: Root cause of misery

Joe Root smashed 18 fours in his unbeaten 321-ball 180-run innings, his fifth century of the year, to anchor the England innings.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty |
Updated: August 15, 2021 7:45:50 am
England's Joe Root gestures at the end of the third day of the second Test against India. (Reuters)

On a glorious London day, Joe Root’s cultured neutering of the Indian bowling left the game tantalisingly poised. After letting it slip in the first session and a good chunk of the second, India bounced back through Ishant Sharma’s double blow post tea. Thanks to Root, the hosts still took a narrow 27-run first innings lead, scoring 391 all out. One good session either way can decide the outcome of the second Test.

Root’s unbeaten 180 was his 22nd Test hundred and 11th as England captain. Also, he became the first England skipper to score five Test centuries in a calendar year. But hard numbers hardly capture his batting aesthetics. The sun shone bright, and Root was resplendent.

Three years ago, when England played a home Test series against India, Root’s batting performance had been so-so by his lofty standards – 319 runs from five matches at 35.44. A minor technical tweak has contributed to a serious upsurge in form. Back then, Root was taking an off stump guard and his positioning at the point of the delivery release made him a candidate for LBW. He was out leg-before thrice in 2018.

The Root of current vintage takes a conventional leg-and-middle guard and although occasionally he pokes at deliveries in the corridor, the change has allowed him to play the straight balls on the on-side, negating LBW threats to a large extent. As he tapped a Jasprit Bumrah delivery on the off-side to reach his hundred, his wagon wheel presented an interesting picture – not a single shot was played in the ‘V’. A bit of it was down to the slopy landscape of the pitch. Technical changes aside, though, Root has thrived on his resolve.

Facing a hat-trick ball and his team reeling at 23/2 on the second day, Root just couldn’t afford to get out. He has been singlehandedly carrying England’s Test batting for a while now. The 30-year-old has scored almost 28 per cent England’s Test runs this year. Here he had nearly 46 per cent runs of his team’s first innings total, batting for 533 minutes and playing 321 balls. Root has become a deep-rooted problem for India in the series.

With his family in attendance at Lord’s, Root leapt for joy after reaching three-figures. The happiness of a golden run must have trickled down to Yorkshire also, where his boyhood coach Kevin Sharp always keeps a close eye on the little Bambi – Root’s pet name at Yorkshire cricket club.

Searching for rhythm

The first session on Saturday belonged to Root and Jonny Bairstow. India’s bowling was below-par during that period. Mohammed Shami couldn’t hit his stride, Ishant Sharma looked be to searching for rhythm which he would find later in the day, Mohammed Siraj was wayward in that spell and Ravindra Jadeja didn’t look effective on an excellent batting pitch. The Indian fast bowlers were all over the place in the first session – too straight, width and also some sprinkling of leg-side offerings. Only Bumrah hit the right line, but when the ball took the edge, it either didn’t carry to the wicketkeeper or slips, or went through the vacant third slip region. However, Bumrah was guilty of bowling 13 no-balls in the innings.

All the while, Ravichandran Ashwin, a spinner capable of deceiving the batsmen in the air, watched on from the bench. At the time it felt like India’s decision to stick to a four-pronged pace attack was a mistake.

Resuming on overnight 119/3, England added 97 runs in 28 overs in the first session without losing a wicket.

India showed better planning post-lunch; Siraj coming from around the wicket and peppering Bairstow with short deliveries with the old ball and with a leg slip in place. The ploy worked, as the batsman eventually was bounced out. Seven years ago, during India’s Test win at this venue, Ishant had used the short ball very effectively to dismantle England batting. India moved back to move forward.

As for Bairstow, accused of looking “uninterested” during England’s tour of India earlier this year, a half-century here would do a world of good to his confidence. His 121-run fourth wicket partnership with Root initiated England’s fightback.

Home or away, the present Indian bowling unit is usually used to running through opposition batting. In tough conditions, as Root and Bairstow motored along, they showed a lack of patience, resulting in bowling a lot of boundary balls. Impatience spread to the fielders also. When some bottle corks were thrown at KL Rahul from the stands, he threw them back. A fan caught one of them and threw up his arms in delight.

Jos Buttler yet again looked edgy during his stay at the crease before Ishant made an inswinger sneak through the gate. Moeen Ali capitalised on the loose deliveries to add 58 important runs for the sixth wicket with Root. But Ishant did him in with the angle and snapped up Sam Curran next ball to restore parity in the contest. By then, he was firing on all cylinders. Ishant returned with 3/69. Siraj claimed 4/94 and was a touch unlucky not to get a five-for at Lord’s, for Root survived on umpire’s call.

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