“Until yesterday that Root had gone missing. But with diligence and dedication, in a dead rubber where Cook was perhaps the only England player who needed this game, Root has turned it around”
As Alastair Cook’s fairytale farewell hundred took centre stage, England’s skipper, Joe Root, quietly racked up a hundred combining with the man of the moment in a 259-run partnership. It was Root’s 14th Test hundred and it seems even impromptu discussing about it amidst Cook’s fervour. But with the legendary opener walking out of the game with thundering applauses, Root remains England’s sole ray of hope in a top-order that has failed to match their own lower order in recent times.
Root, whose last Test hundred came 386 days ago against the West Indies, had scored 11 half-centuries in the meantime without once converting it to a hundred. His woes after 50 were well documented and one way or the other, despite managing to look in fine nick, Root threw it away before the three figure mark. A remarkable direct hit from Virat Kohli when he was on 80 earlier this series confirmed that the England skipper would have a had time getting the monkey off his back.
But with Cook hogging the limelight, Root batted with more assuredness and purpose, and raced to a 14th Test ton, piling the agony on Indian bowlers. That this came in the second innings of the Test is even more significant for Root’s conversion issues were more profound in the latter innings.
In first innings’ of Tests, Root has hit 12 hundreds out of 32 scores above 50, a conversion rate of 37.5%. In the second innings though, of 22 50-plus scores, he had converted just one to a century until yesterday. The knock and which innings it came in is important when viewed in the context of England’s next Test tour (Sri Lanka).
With Cook gone and Bairstow and Stokes a shade of their home avatars in the sub-continent, the onus is on Joe Root to carry the batting line-up on the dusty bowls of Sri Lanka against a slew of slower bowlers. Root has quietly slipped out of the Fab four in recent times after his dismal conversion rates became a major issue. You don’t expect one among the four best batsmen in the world to score just half-centuries. While those came at regular intervals, the digging deep hundreds never came by. This was one such knock. It showed Root is ready to handle the future which has no Cook. It showed he was ready to anchor in Lanka where none of their current crop of batsmen, including Root, have played before.
Root’s series record was slipping away disastrously after his promising 80 in the first Test. He had scored just 114 runs in seven innings’ since then before turning it around in the company of Cook. The duo looked as assertive as England have ever looked in this series despite the scoreline all set to read 4-1. That there was no lop-sided phase of play until yesterday in the whole series shows the competitiveness of this series. It also shows what it took for Cook and Root to overcome that.
The pitch was undoubtedly healthier for batting and despite making quite a few mistakes, both the batsmen were determined to grind it out together one final time. Cook was perhaps ensuring his partner and captaincy successor would go to Sri Lanka with lessons learnt from him.
Although conditions would be vastly different, that Root played out quite a few of Jadeja would relieve England who might be forced to give their batsmen some special training to counter Herath and co. History suggests that newcomers have a horrendous time in the Island Nation and with the country itself on a resurrection path with a rejuvenated pace and spin attack, England seem to headed downhill.
Away from home, England’s top five average 34.69, which is greater than the global average of top five batsmen away from home but still pretty par. With Cook gone, genuine top-order woes becoming an issue, lack of a proper no.3 and an unknown touring destination in the offing, England need Root the match-winner.
Until yesterday that Root had gone missing. But with diligence and dedication, in a dead rubber where Cook was perhaps the only England player who needed this game, Root has turned it around. That he got out to an ill-advised slog sweep off Hanuma Vihari’s part-time off-spin will not worry Root for he had shown enough evidence of playing spinners with conviction before that. Could this be a sign of things to come in Lanka? Or would this fade away in the dust bowls? Only time will tell.