England v Sri Lanka, 1st Investec Test, Lord's, 1st day June 12, 2014

A nod to the future for Root and England

This was one day at the start of a long summer but after a long and painful winter it was a day for England to enjoy the sunshine

We may never really know how many nervous twitches and glances there were in the England dressing room at 22 for 2. Mitchell Johnson was thousands of miles away and although the pitch was tinged with green and the new-ball swinging there was no reason to be overly alarmed.

Yet, whatever England do at the moment their recent history looms large. So when Alastair Cook chopped into his stumps, to end an uncertain stay, they were not marching convincingly into a new season of Test cricket. But some six hours later life as an England cricketer - and there were three at Lord's for which this was their first day - was beginning to look just a little bit rosier.

Not least for Joe Root who scored his second Test hundred in consecutive Lord's innings. The punch of the fist and the roar of delight could easily have been for what has gone before as much for what had just occurred.

Closing on 344 for 5 represented England's best first innings since The Oval last August - a turgid affair which led to James Faulkner attacking how England were playing their cricket - and is just nine short of anything they made in Australia. There could be no quibbling with the intent today as they kept in touch with four-an-over. When three wickets were down before lunch it was being readied as a criticism, but the urgency during the afternoon and evening session was their most convincing batting in a long time albeit against an attack that wearied as the day went on.

It should be a concern that the innings needed lifting from another uncertain beginning, but the fact it was achieved with some conviction and style should bring a sense of optimism that the rebuilding work is underway. That the recovery was largely staged by two players who did not finish the Ashes and another completely new to the Test team should gladden the hearts of suffering supporters. They may not agree with all the selections, but there were a few ticks for James Whitaker and company today.

Apart from the 180 at Lord's, the back-to-back Ashes was a searching experience for Root, not helped by the variety of roles he was asked to fill while still trying to establish the early days of his Test career. Opening in England became No. 6 to start with in Australia, but only for one Test when he was then shunted up to No. 3 after Jonathan Trott's departure. He did not survive the series, being dropped in Sydney.

He is in his 16th Test which has involved batting in six positions and although his one innings at No. 7 came due a nightwatchman, that is hardly the stability a young player needs. He has looked most at ease in the middle order; he made his nerveless 73 on debut against India in Nagpur and scored his first Test hundred from No. 5 against New Zealand at Headingley last year.

But if you had been assessing England's batting order for this match entirely logically - and with the assumption that Ian Bell gets what he wants to bat at No. 4 - then it pointed towards Root being No. 3 rather than Gary Ballance who does not bat that high for Yorkshire. Ballance did not look out of depth but was skittish during his stay as Sri Lanka preyed on a vulnerability outside off stump that was evident in the one-day series. All this was happening while Trott was making a hundred for Warwickshire's 2nd XI. He remains a vast hole to fill.

Being an opener by trade, it is surprising that Root has not seemed more at home at, or near the top of the order - notwithstanding the hundred against Australia which provides more than half his runs as an opener. The ability to rotate the strike, drop and run, to keep the board ticking comes far more easily in the middle order than it has done facing the new ball. Those skills were on evidence here; there were just two boundaries in his half-century but it did not feel as though his innings had come to standstill as some against Australia had done so.

Before this series Root stated his desire for the middle order although, after his hundred, played down a suggestion that he had declined the No.3 job. "Batting three or five, you can come in with a very similar score on the board," he said. "Whether they had an inkling I didn't want to bat there, or had suggested the middle order, maybe that had something to do with it."

Perhaps, at international level, he is more comfortable reacting to a situation rather than setting one up (he makes his one-day home in the middle order where the mindset can be similar). There is also the fact, which cannot be escaped, that batting at No. 5 will, most of the time, mean the newness of the ball has gone: in this innings, although the top three fell relatively cheaply, the ball was nearly 20 overs old when he arrived.

Still, for the Dukes ball in England, during the first session of a Test, that can still make the job tricky. He survived until lunch, which allowed England to catch their breath after a somewhat frantic first session, then played watchfully until tea. During the final session, as the zip from Sri Lanka's seamers dissipated, he skipped along at a jaunty rate with his second fifty taking 77 balls compared to the first which required 106.

A few moments later he got solidly behind the line of Nuwan Pradeep's final ball of the day then walked off as the sun started to set over Lord's. This was one day at the start of a long summer, after a long and painful winter. Tough days will follow, which could easily revive bad memories, but this was an occasion to think of the future.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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