There was one constant thought right through Saturday’s play at Lord’s: India need to find a way to get Joe Root out. It was discussed from ball one. On social media, in the commentary. By fans, by experts. When he got to fifty early on in the day, when he crossed 100, when he crossed 150, and even when he remained unbeaten on 180. People kept stressing that India have to find a solution for the Joe Root puzzle.
The thing worth noting, though, is that no one knew what the solution was. The problem for India was pointed out consistently, but no one knew what was to be done. How do you get Joe Root out?
That’s the level of batsmanship the England captain showed on day three of the second Test. He remain unconquered having faced 321 deliveries. And yet, at the end of it, nobody had discovered a real chink in his armour. He batted and batted and batted and eventually, gave his team the most improbable lead in the match.
As it happened: England vs India, day three of the second Test at Lord’s
England had a solid day two after the struggles of day one, where they could pick just three wickets after winning the toss in overcast conditions. But they were still a fair way behind in the contest at the start of day three. They had seven wickets in hand and trailed by 245 runs. They needed someone to really dig in and play a long innings. And of the eight batters remaining, there was just one who truly had the pedigree to do that. Fortunately for England, he did exactly that and then some.
There are two key factors to consider while looking at Root’s extraordinary innings. Firstly, he never let the burden of expectations get to him. England have been struggling as a batting unit for a while now. In fact, they’ve been going through a rough patch as a team. A number of their top players are injured and young batsmen have been wasting opportunities repeatedly.
Heading into the series, it was no secret that for England to have a chance, Root would have to shoulder his team’s batting in a big way. And instead of crumbling under the pressure, he has gone on to hit two hundreds and a half-century in his first three innings.
Secondly, as much as India have struggled to dismiss him, the fact remains that Root is up against a world-class bowling attack. In Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj and Ishant Sharma, India have four of the finest fast bowlers in world cricket. They’ve had plenty of success in recent years and have shown so far in the series that they can gain the upper hand against England’s batting. And this makes Root’s runs all the more remarkable. He isn’t grinding them out. He is bossing the bowlers.
On Saturday at Lord’s, there were a couple of periods where Root was tested. Jasprit Bumrah bowled well in the first session and stuck to a line outside off, and Mohammed Siraj was fiery in the third session and kept nipping the ball back into the right-hander.
But Root never looked like he was going to be dismissed. There was no tentativeness in his batting. He respected the good balls and kept finding ways to rotate strike. He scored a lot of runs square of the wicket and played close to his body, avoiding big booming drives and choosing to caress the ball instead.
The 30-year-old’s knock stacked up some staggering numbers. He became the second England player, after Alastair Cook, to score 9,000 runs in Test cricket. He is the leading run-scorer in Tests in 2021 with 1,244 runs. Third on that list is Rohit Sharma with 669 runs. And second on that list is ‘Root vs India’ with 721 runs.
“He (Root) means a heck of a lot to us, like he does to English cricket,” Jonny Bairstow, who made a valuable contribution of 57 runs for his team, said after the day’s play. “To do what he’s done, to go into second place among leading run-scorers in the history of the English game is very special, to pass 9,000 Test runs in this game is extremely special, to score another 180 not out at Lord’s… I’ve run out of superlatives, to be honest. It’s great to see him in the form that he’s in, playing the way he is, it’s awesome to be out there with him putting on partnerships and enjoying every single moment of it.”
Root’s single-mindedness with the bat dragged his team to a strong position heading into day four. England would fancy their chances of bowling the opposition out quickly and taking a crack at the target.
India were ahead for most of the match but they’ve been left with little room for error in their second innings. They will be put under pressure and if they need inspiration, they need not look further than the England captain.