“Joe Root has been absolutely brilliant in Sri Lanka and looked assured on his technique and temperament. He made Galle his run-scoring party ground”

All is not well in the United Kingdom. At first, the COVID-19 devastated them and now the fears of the new strain in the UK consistently haunting the British. And in between the UK strain and the previous COVID-19 – the South African strain is all set to trigger the panic button. But life is moving on in the UK – the Premier League has been an exhibition of top-notch sports to kill the boredom of the sports-loving people in England and each week, a new twist in the tale consistently keeping the English alive and kicking in the Pandemic.

Football is definitely the major sport in England and they are mad about it, but cricket also has its role to inspire the British. Back in the east, Joe Root took his boys to face Sri Lanka on those typical subcontinental decks. None doubted the success of Root’s boys against a depleted Sri Lankan unit, and also, it was supposed to be the preparation for the big tour in India, which has become the final frontier for teams like Australia, England, and New Zealand.

Sri Lanka exhibited inconsistency with the bat and suffered. They simply lacked the batsman who would lead from the front and carry the team on his shoulder. Thankfully, for England, Root was there.

At Galle, England lost wickets quickly in response to Sri Lanka’s paltry first innings total. Root came at the wicket and started to graft the innings because he needed to be the fulcrum of this innings.

Since becoming the skipper of England, his average dropped significantly than it was before. The critics kept on saying, captaincy has been hampering his batsmanship and the Englishman is losing the race against the likes of Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson, and Steve Smith.

At Galle, he made a statement – taking the singles and twos consistently – grooving occasionally with a boundary. The innings started to build up and Root was at the center of everything. There was no evidence of a batsman who was seen struggling for runs against Pakistan and the West Indies last summer, rather, here was a man, who came out to bat and make the conditions his own party ground.

Sri Lanka unleashed the spinners and Root’s answer was the sweep-shot as if Graham Gooch of Mumbai, 1987 was evident in Sri Lanka.

“Joe understands how to play spin really well,” David Saker, the bowling coach of Sri Lanka said.

“He looked so good, and just him being so comfortable at the crease puts pressure on the bowlers straightaway. He plays back quite deep in the crease, and it’s hard to put pressure on him. As soon as you try to get the ball a bit fuller he hits you down the ground. He also sweeps very well. He’s always putting pressure on the bowler and it’s hard to get into a groove against him because he hits you off that.”

Root went on to script a double ton –  the fourth of his Test career and his second as captain – helped England take a commanding first-innings lead by the time they were bowled out on the brink of lunch on Day 3.

The ease with which Root amassed his runs might give a somewhat misleading impression about the track in Galle.

After the first innings of both sides were completed, only two other men in the match had made more than 30. The last five in the England side contributed only 17 runs between them as Sri Lanka claimed six wickets in the morning session.

CricViz has suggested Root’s innings in Galle contained more sweeps than any Test innings and it kept the innings moving.

Only Wally Hammond (with seven) and Sir Alastair Cook (with five) now have more double-centuries for England. Root’s score here represents the second-highest score by an England player in Asia after Cook’s 263* in Abu Dhabi in 2015.

At Galle, Root also surpassed 8,000 Test runs and became the seventh English player to reach the landmark and, in terms of innings (it was his 178th), the second quickest after Kevin Pietersen, who reached the milestone in 176 innings.

England won the Test and after the Test Root said, “With the time off, the thing that’s really benefited me is having a period of time to work on my game. To have time to think about things and take stock and look where I can improve. That’s where I think I’ve benefited the most.”

“There will be occasions where I might have to miss out here and there. I’m desperate to play as much as I can. I love playing cricket, love playing for England, and feel very privileged to get the opportunity. I suppose getting the balance right is very important. But the way I thought about things in that period of time off, I will look to replicate.”

“I don’t think you can ever be a finished article as a captain. I certainly don’t feel it’s the case with me. I will always look to improve and get better; I feel I am getting a better handle on things.”

Indeed, he was getting better and better because in the second Test at the same venue, he notched up another hundred.

In the first Test he scored 54% of the runs in the first innings and in the second Test, he scored 55% – which says, how good he had been with the bat on a deck, which was doing treacherous things. Sri Lanka doesn’t have a Muuttiah Muralitharan or Rangana Herath, but Lasith Embulduniya had been a tough nut and exploited the conditions better.

The application of Root had been the same as before- strike rotation and occupy the crease, get accustomed and release the pressure – as soon as the conditions are mastered, play fluently and let the sweep-shots do the talking and it did.

So broad is Root’s repertoire of sweep that he can hit the ball in front or behind square on both sides of the wicket – the flow of runs could never be stopped.

He was run out 14 short of yet another epic ton defying the heat and humidity at Galle.

Root’s aggregate in the series was 426. Only once has an England batsman scored more runs in a series in which he played two or fewer matches: in 1932-33 tour to New Zealand, Wally Hammond scored 563 runs in just two innings, including an unbeaten 336 in Auckland.

44.4% of England’s runs off the bat scored by Root in the series: he made 426 out of the 980 runs scored by all the England batsmen. The percentage of 44.4 is the fifth-highest in the all-time list for any series of two or more Tests. On top is Hammond’s 52.4%, in the series mentioned above.

Technically, Root’s batting changed a bit in Sri Lanka – his initial trigger movement had been back and across and not falling back too much, and also, he has opened his stance which allowed him to counter the turning ball square of the wicket. With shorter and sharper movement and the front shoulder engaged more into the ball more effectively – his back-lift has always been high but in comparison to a few years back, his pick-up point has been quicker and effective.

England would need this Root in India and one can hope this less-octane series has helped Root and England a lot to prepare for the tough tour.

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