How old-fashioned Joe Root shunned ‘Bazball’ to save the day for England

PTI, Feb 23, 2024, 5:35 PM IST

Joe Root during test match against India in Ranchi (Credit: PTI)

Ranchi: Joe Root did not bring out the sweep shot until he faced his 115th ball on a clement Friday at Ranchi and unleashed only a solitary reverse sweep while constructing a slow-burning hundred to save the day for England.

Root’s unbeaten 106 off 226 balls, which was made at a strike rate of 46.90, was, perhaps, the most anti-Bazball innings that might have been played in the Brendon McCullum era.

But then Root needed to rediscover that dogged Yorkie inside him – for himself and the team.

He entered the fourth Test against India on the back of 29, 2, 5, 16, 18, 7 in his last Test innings and that 18 in the first innings at Rajkot might have hurt him deeply.

England were at a dominant 224 for two, well in sight of India’s first innings total of 445. But Root decided to reverse lap Jasprit Bumrah for Yashasvi Jaiswal to pull off a smart catch at slip.

His dismissal sparked an England collapse as the tourists were bundled out for 319, and India converted that lead into a record victory and a 2-1 series lead.

It sparked the discussion about the careless side of Bazball, and Root’s 50-plus average during the McCullum reign was not good enough to slow down the wagging fingers at him.

The 33-year-old needed an innings of substance for that, and he had to return to his original batting ways. Ian Chappell, a cricketing master-brain, offered a similar thought.

“Root had a bloody fine record playing normally, and he was a quick scorer playing normally. I don’t see why he’s trying to change things drastically, and I’ve never believed you should play premeditated shots,” Chappell told World Wide Sports.

Root did precisely that, curbing his desire for fancy. However, it is not that the former England captain cannot pull off the extraordinary.

A quick look at a You Tube clip of Root reverse scooping Pat Cummins during the Ashes last year will offer validation for his skill level.

But that was at Edgbaston and the pitch there had a lot more carry than the ones in the sub-continent, and playing those shots might have been a tad easier for him.

So, Root had to be cautious and judicious here. But it was not all catnip for Root as he had to ward off a few uncomfortable moments during his innings.

In the very first ball he faced, debutant pacer Akash Deep brought one back into Root to ping his pads but in DRS, taken by Rohit Sharma, it was evident that the ball was missing the leg-stump.

Later, Mohammed Siraj too hit his pads with an in-swinger as Root almost paid for his delayed front foot movement but for a feather of an inside edge. He was 82 then.

When Root was on 97, Akash Deep’s reverse swinging in-dipper came in and slammed into his pads, but umpire Rod Tucker deemed that the ball was doing too much.

But, as any other great batter, he showed braveness to move on from those momentary discomforts to build an old-fashioned Test innings.

He struck just nine boundaries, including a flowing drive through covers off Akash Deep to reach his 31st Test hundred, but lack of big hits never bothered him.

Root was content in taking those singles and twos to put his and the team’s score on an upwardly mobile curve.

His approach was more sanguine than flashy, but received its appreciation from the high priests Ben Stokes and McCullum when they signalled thumbs up from the dressing room to celebrate his century.

The more cynical among us would point to the absence of the rested Bumrah for Root’s success.

But Test cricket is all about a match-up between possibilities, and none knows that better than Root.

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