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In the face of so much expectation, Joe Root delivered when his side needed him and when his home crowd were so willing him to
May 25, 2013
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Yorkshire was on its best behaviour for Joe Root. "Put tha' best bib and ticker on, lad's mekking his debut." The crowd was expectant but never over-demanding, the pitch was bountiful and the skies were so sharp and blue that from the top floor of the pavilion you could even see the Emley Moor transmitter on the horizon. Tallest structure in Yorkshire, the locals will tell you. But there is no doubt after the magic of a maiden Test hundred on his first outing on his home ground that Root is standing taller today.
It was a chance to make good, and Root had the ability to take it. His celebration upon reaching three figures will stick in the memory, a sort of ungainly jiggle which suggested that, although he hails from Sheffield, the Arctic Monkeys will never have him in mind when they sing I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor. "I lost it a bit, but you only get your first one once," he said before confirming that it was not actually meant to be a dance move. "I suppose emotions took over and that was the result of it."
His disgust with himself when he got out weakly, chasing the first delivery with the second new ball, had even more to commend it.
Kevin Pietersen was one of the first England players to tweet his congratulations, calling him the first England nine-year-old to score a ton. Root grinned at the ribbing and admitted that even at 22 he can still be asked for ID to get served in pubs. He must be the first England batsman to be more afraid of a pub landlord than a Test bowling attack. "I'm not too fussed," he said. "I can't help it."
Not since Darren Gough bowled out South Africa 15 years ago has there been such an outpouring of Yorkshire pride at a Headingley Test. Not since Geoffrey Boycott inched towards his 100th first-class hundred here in 1977 has a Yorkshire batsman in a Headingley Test borne so much faith. In both cases, it was as if the outcome was pre-ordained. Boycott was 36, his best days beyond him; Root was 22, many fine days surely still to come, but in the sort of prolific form that could not be ignored. Neither let their supporters down.
The most striking thing about Root is that, for all his mild-mannered exterior, when it comes to cricket, he "gets it". It is not just about his technique, or his range of shots, it is the fact that his mind is so attuned to it. It is rare to see a young player repeatedly make such sensible cricketing decisions.
He must have realised as a youngster that he had an aptitude for cricket like discovering that he was gifted in computer code or foreign languages. In Root's case, natural ability came hand in hand with a fierce desire for improvement. All that obsessive practice is worth it now.
He has expanded his runs tally this season to 861 at an average of 123. Just think, some of us imagined after his heroic stonewalling in India and New Zealand, it might inhibit his game so much that he would not be able to play another shot until the end of June. How wrong we were.
|Few England players of recent vintage have taken to the Test arena with such a lack of nerves and with so much obvious pleasure.|
Boycott, now Yorkshire's president, was bristling with pride that the county's line of England batsmen had been affirmed so gloriously. They may be connected by county affiliation, perhaps even cricketing philosophy, but in style they are all very different. With Boycott, you could always sense the intense concentration, the unyielding desire to succeed. When Michael Vaughan, a Root mentor and the last Yorkshire batsman to make a Test hundred at Headingley, against West Indies in 2007, was on song, you were overcome by the elegance.
Root is different again. He soothes the onlooker, never over-striving or over-hitting, a boy-man proceeding with immense repose, finessing the ball to areas where logic insisted he should send it. The biggest cheer came for a reverse sweep against the offspin of Kane Williamson. It was not random, it suited the delivery and the moment, but it communicated that he has batting cheek, too.
Boycott was full of emphatic, brook-no-argument praise. "Joe Root's played beautifully, but ever since he was about 15, we at Yorkshire felt we had a good player here and that he had what it takes to be pretty special," he said.
He could have suggested it was never as easy at Headingley in his day - and it would have been justifiable. Keith Boyce's Test pitches were crabbier affairs, ever eager to betray a batsman in golden touch with a grubber or two, as if to say: "Play that one, let's see you." Boycott learned mistrust. Andy Fogarty's creations are fairer surfaces. There was a bit in it for the bowlers as England lost 3 for 67, but as Root settled in, he was increasingly blessed by kindly batting conditions.
Ultimately, though, how he made the Yorkshire crowd sweat. Twice in the 90s, he was spared only after TV replays. On 92, Jonny Bairstow's firm straight drive deflected into the stumps off the hands of the bowler, Neil Wagner. How galling it would have been for Root to be run out by his Yorkshire team mate, a batsman who stood alongside him for much of the day. But Root's back foot and bat were firmly entrenched.
A run later, Root's smile did not seem quite so scampish as Brendon McCullum appealed for a leg-side catch off Doug Bracewell and, when turned down, took the issue to a review. The replay showed pad. The crowd cheered, but they wanted it over. Root's runs had dried, for the first time, and it was Bairstow, the stronger puncher, who looked the stronger, twice driving Wagner imperiously through mid-on as he passed his third England half-century.
"I tried to get out twice in the two worst ways," he said. "I wouldn't say I was nervous in the 90s, more excited really. I was confident I was not out, but you just never know."
If Root departed angrily, Bairstow left with dejection, a second Yorkshire batsman to fall in successive overs, another victim of the Boult-McCullum combination. Two Yorkshire hundreds in one innings might have been too much to hope for.
All that was galling for Yorkshire was that the ground was not at capacity. A crowd of 12,000 left the ground three-quarters full. What Bank Holiday attraction could possibly beat this? The Harewood Medieval banquet, the Swaledale Festival in the Dales or perhaps the Photography Bubble Exhibition in Malton?
One thing that can be said confidently about Joe Root, or at least as confidently as anything can ever be predicted about any young cricketer: this does not look like a bubble which is about to burst. Few England players of recent vintage have taken to the Test arena with such a lack of nerves and with so much obvious pleasure about the challenge that lies before them.
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