BENGALURU: The former England captain Joe Root once again rose to the occasion on Sunday and scored an unbeaten 115 to guide his team to a five-wicket win against New Zealand at Lord’s. Chasing 277, the visitors were in a pickle at 69-4 but Root, as he has often done, towed the team out of the quagmire and exuded an air of serenity amid turbulence.
This is Root’s 26th Test hundred but the first in the fourth innings of a match. During his ton, he also became only the second England batsman, after Alastair Cook, to score 10,000 Test runs.
‘Robust technique, unwavering focus’
Root came to the crease when New Zealand pacer Kyle Jamieson was bowling at full throttle and troubling batsmen with his disconcerting bounce and seam movement. Trent Boult, on the other hand, was also looking in rhythm. However, Root was completely unruffled and negotiated both of them with utmost ease.
He steered Boult to third-man for a couple to open his account and later pulled Jamieson for a four in the 20th over. He handled Jamieson’s tricky length with amazing finesse and played his shots with soft hands, especially while defending.
He particularly relied on his two trademark shots – squirts to backward point and pulls in front of square. When boundaries were hard to come by, he milked singles & doubles to keep the scoreboard ticking. His head position was straight as a ramrod and his focus was unswerving as he looked completely committed to the task.
He clipped Southee to square-leg for a single to bring up fifty in 107 balls but England still needed 96 more runs so his job was only half-done. Root became a little cavalier after bringing up his half-century as he charged down the track and cut Southee for a four as the ball flew over a gully. He was a tad lucky as a couple of inside edges missed the stumps only by a whisker and went to the boundary. At the end of Day 3, Root was batting at 76 off 130 balls and England were 217-5.
As the play resumed on Sunday, the 31-year-old continued from where he had left and didn’t become blase. He whipped out a scintillating straight drive off Jamieson to get into the 90s and then turned Southee to mid-wicket for two runs to reach his hundred in 157 balls.
He cobbled up two crucial alliances with captain Ben Stokes (90-run) and wicket-keeper Ben Foakes (unbeaten 120-run) for the fifth and sixth wickets respectively as England cruised to a five-wicket win in the end.
‘Break from captaincy’
Root has been in phenomenal form since the start of 2021 – he has racked up 2192 runs and 9 Test centuries – but the performance of his team hasn’t been up to scratch during this period. No batsman has scored more runs and tons in Tests than Root since 2021. He was often the lone wolf of the batting order as others around him fell like ninepins. Due to the mounting pressure, Root voluntarily resigned from Test captaincy in April this year.
After being adjudged Man of the Match on Sunday, he spoke about the ‘unhealthy’ relationship with the captaincy. “It had become a very unhealthy relationship, to be honest, the captaincy and me. It started to really take a bad toll on my own personal health. I couldn’t leave it on the ground anymore; it was coming home. It wasn’t fair on my family, on people close to me, and it wasn’t fair on myself either,” he confessed.
“I had thrown everything at it and I was determined to help turn this team around but I realised over that time at home that it would have to be in a different way. I’m very excited to do that now and to do everything I can to help Ben [Stokes] really turn this team around and make this team the force it should and can be,” he added.
‘Comparisons with Sachin’
Former Australian skipper Mark Taylor triggered a debate after his masterful hundred by saying Root has the capability to break Sachin Tendulkar’s record of most Test runs.
“Root has a minimum of five years left in him, so I think Tendulkar’s record is very achievable. The root is batting as well as I have ever seen him bat over the last 18 months to two years. He is in the prime of his career, so there is 15,000 runs-plus for him if he stays healthy,” he opined.
While breaking Sachin’s record may seem an insurmountable task since many batsmen in the past as well were tipped to overhaul his achievements but failed, Root certainly looks set to serve his country for many more years and eventually become the highest run-getter for England. He’s already among the all-time great batsmen and stands a chance to become the best that England have produced in this format.