“A promising 104 run stand nearly defined day one of the historic series. Everything about the partnership – from the 4.52 runs per over to the pristine cover drives to the lovely nudges – reeked of England’s dominance. Yet, it all came crumbling down in one moment that turned the day around”
A desperate dive, a furious glance at his partner and reluctantly accepting that yet again he had thrown away the chance to embrace the elusive three-figure mark. Joe Root’s final few moments in the middle of the pitch on day one was as dramatic as you would expect from an English captain on day one of the first Test of a long Ashes series.
This was no Ashes, though. This was India at Edgbaston, which England virtually owns so much that they could very well roll out a notice of possible list of outcomes and have just won and draw inside them. With the sun beating down on the surface and England batting, the last thing an England fan wanted to see was their skipper going for a non-existent run on day one of a Test match, particularly with his century-making ability hanging in the balance.
Yet, nothing before the untimely dismissal suggested England or Root would panic. Two Yorkshire batsmen – Joe Root and Johnny Bairstow – were making merry (ironically on Yorkshire Day celebrated on August 1st) on a flattened out surface with the latter, in particular, impressing with some crisp strokes all around the wicket.
Root was diligent, seemed pre-occupied, yet almost in a hurry to score. He began with a positive push through covers off Ravichandran Ashwin, the most impressive of Indian bowlers on day one, and followed it up with two leg glances for boundaries off Ishant Sharma.
There was a certain kind of freedom and flamboyance in Root’s batting that had been sorely amiss at the Ashes a few months back. Perhaps it stemmed from the confidence-boosting tons against India in the ODIs prior to the Tests. Perhaps it was knowing that this was a true surface for batting and they had the firepower and depth to counter the Indian attack. Whatever it was, Root flourished.
He was his busy self, collecting runs at will, easing the pressure on the non-striker while egging him on to take up his cue. Jennings almost did until an unfortunate inside edge misbehaved with his stumps. When Bairstow walked in after Dawid Malan’s unsuccessful review against an LBW decision, Root had promising company.
The duo had barely batted alongside each other in the past few months. In fact, they are among the most assured of England’s middle-order batsmen but hardly get a chance to extend their friendship out in the middle, one reason probably being Root’s tendency to have a sweet but short stay at the wicket.
Bairstow and Root are separated by just one batsman in the line-up. Yet the low volume of times they have batted together shows why England’s skipper probably needs to bat longer. When they do bat together, the elegance and unmistakable swagger of Yorkshire men, best exhibited by Geoffrey Boycott’s accent, ooze out. In 13 innings’ together since the beginning of 2016, Root and Bairstow average 50.36 with two century partnerships (including yesterday’s Edgbaston one) and as many half-century stands.
In the Ashes, they batted together just twice – both in the same Test at Sydney – with one of them coming only because Root was retired hurt and came back out to bat later. In the following Pakistan series they batted together once and recorded zero runs as a pair.
But this was India. Root loves India. He has 50-plus scores in 12 consecutive Tests against the country. He crossed the 6000-run landmark in Test cricket during his classy knock. It had everything from sublime flicks to audacious drives, yet when England needed him to kick on, Root found new ways to mess it up.
Bairstow was in every way the perfect antidote to Root. Unlike Jennings and Malan, he wasn’t bogged down by the situation. England had lost two wickets in fairly quick succession and the onus was on Bairstow to hold his end steady. He did much better. He scored rapidly, sent the Indian fielders leather hunting and took on their trump card, the spinner.
Root’s tendency to be careless post his half-century perhaps went unnoticed in the sheer beauty of Bairstow’s batting. When he walked in, Root was already on 43. By the time the shambolic run-out took place, Bairstow had raced to 65 in 79 balls, striking at a rate greater than 80. The duo were scoring at over six an over in the final session and it seemed like India would be in for a long day when their captain decided to pull off a stunner.
Quite against the run of play, Root and Bairstow made a meal of running a couple of runs and the disaster culminated in a few swear words from Kohli, a customary ‘sushhh’ing and a send-off with the mic drop pantomime. Bairstow nudged Ashwin through the vacant mid-wicket region and took off for a run. And then another. Root, apparently in two minds for the second run, had to hurry to the non-striker’s end where Kohli had sent in an accurate throw while turning and throwing the ball airborne. Ashwin, sensing that the throw would hit the stumps, just let it go and Root’s desperate dive was a mere last gasp effort to save his face before the media.
A promising 104 run stand nearly defined day one of the historic series. Everything about the partnership – from the 4.52 runs per over to the pristine cover drives to the lovely nudges – reeked of England’s dominance. Yet, it all came crumbling down in one moment that turned the day around. Since Root’s dismissal, the England innings never really took off.
Bairstow was bowled two overs later, Buttler an over after that. The hosts lost six wickets for 67 runs in a queer passage of play that saw the visitors gain upper hand. 285 plus a few added runs could still be more than handy on this surface but the day would possibly be defined by a gorgeous bond that nearly set the tone for the entire season.