England v Australia, 2nd Investec Test, Lord's, 3rd day July 20, 2013

Root's landmark day flays Australia

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England 333-5 (Root 178*, Bell 74) and 361 lead Australia 128 by 566 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Joe Root has shown an ability to adapt to any given match situation in his brief international career. The brief for England on a Lord's Saturday was to take the heat out of the game and bat Australia into oblivion. And so Root did. Around the time that Australia were conscious only of the fact that there was no hope, he raised his bat to celebrate a maiden Test hundred as an England opener.

"Grind them down, Joe" would have been the message. It is a rare young player who feels so comfortable with such an instruction. If an occasional back-foot drive was reminiscent of Michael Vaughan, in the first two sessions there was a touch of Geoffrey Boycott in his fastidiousness.

The benefits then accrued in a rush as England, who made 141 off 58 overs against solid but uninspired bowling in the first two sessions, piled up a further 162 in 32 overs after tea. Root's well-structured 97 blossomed into an unbeaten 178 which left his quality incontestable. England closed the third day with a lead of 566. No side has chased that to win in the fourth innings in the history of first-class cricket. Australia were not thinking about it. They were just thinking about bed.

Root took five-and-three-quarter hours for his hundred, poring over it so intently that he might have replaced his helmet with gown and mortar board. He, too, has been in his year of graduation, and now he has emerged with honours, stilling the discussion surrounding his supplanting of Nick Compton as opener at the start of the Investec Ashes series.

If he had been caught on Friday evening on 8, when wicketkeeper, Brad Haddin, and first slip Michael Clarke left the catch to each other, life might have felt different. Instead, once his hundred had been achieved and with England looking for impetus in the final session, he gambolled along, his inventiveness at its height, particularly against the left-arm spin of Ashton Agar.

Australia's quicks had shouldered a heavy workload over the past 11 days and, with Root's hundred settled eight balls after the new ball was available, Clarke chose not to take it to spare his quicks further punishment. It became an increasingly perplexing call. Root and Ian Bell became increasingly carefree until a stand of 153 came to grief when Bell, on 74, hauled a long hop from Steve Smith to midwicket.

Australia were aggrieved that Bell, when only 3, had not fallen to a catch by Smith at gully when Ryan Harris forced the edge. The umpires handed it to the TV umpire, Tony Hill, to determine if the ball had carried. It was a tough decision, as there was the vaguest suspicion that the ball might have burst through Smith's hands, but the foreshortening of a TV lens notoriously can make good catches seem illegal and it was probably out.

If Clarke was to bowl spinners so avidly in the final session, he could have done with a proven one. As Agar and Smith bowled in tandem, it felt like an educative process, the teaming up of a fledgling slow left-armer and a legspinner who has largely shelved the craft while putting more emphasis on his batting. There is nothing wrong with education. It just felt odd that it should be taking place in the middle of an Ashes series.

Australia's three-wicket burst at the close of the second day had lifted heartbeats, but as the match progressed past its mid-point, they were searching for a pulse. In the first two sessions, they took only one wicket, that of the nightwatchman, Tim Bresnan, whose disciplined innings ended when he flat-batted a pull against James Pattinson to midwicket, a reward for Pattinson, who had made the previous ball rear awkwardly.

Bresnan's batting and bowling statistics have declined markedly since his elbow operation, but he is having a decent Test. Two successive boundaries against Siddle possessed some fortune - an edge in front of Phil Hughes at third slip and a leg-side clip - but Australia were unable to maintain the threat.

Australia's collapse to 128 all out on the second day had been inexplicable, but the quick loss of three England wickets to the new ball had left the slightest unease. The ball was turning, and would turn more, and there was occasional uneven bounce, but nothing untoward. Root's response was faultless.

Only in the final session as the pace of the pitch lessened and the bounce of the ball became more erratic did it become a more challenging surface for batting and by then England's batsman were in the mood to disregard it.

England's nightwatchman tactics do not please everybody, but twice in this Test their logic has been hard to fault. In the first innings, the use of James Anderson as a nightwatchman to protect Stuart Broad, a No . 9, was felt by some to be risible, but Broad and Graeme Swann embarked upon a crowd-pleasing last-wicket stand which lifted England's mood.

As Root walked onto the Lord's outfield on Saturday morning, it seemed shrewd that this time the nightwatchman should be Bresnan, a fellow Yorkshireman able to offer a few words of counsel if his mood ran away itself, and with enough credentials with the bat to have the chance of making a contribution of his own.

England settled carefully. It was six overs before Root risked a cover drive against Pattinson, not entirely securely. Pattinson, who has struggled to settle to the vagaries of the Lord's slope, had a much more solid day. But Root met everything judiciously. Australia, recognising his strength on the back foot, sought to draw him forward, but two easeful straight drives against Siddle had suggested by lunch that his weaknesses are merely comparative.

In the afternoon, he batted time. But he is a calculating batsman behind that smile and he would have liked his hundred before tea. Clarke challenged him to do just that in the last over before the break when he introduced the legspin of Smith. A cut boundary took him to 96, Agar dived at extra cover to prevent another boundary and he could only hack a full toss to mid-off. There had been no over with such incident all day.

Back out again he came after tea, on 97. Shane Watson made one leap, Agar made one creep out of the footholds. Smith made a great diving stop at gully. Root grinned at the fun of it all. Then he cut Agar to reach his hundred. Immediately, the shackles were off and a quietly appreciative crowd sensed that things had become more frolicsome. In the penultimate over, he rounded things off by twice heaving Smith over midwicket for six, any inhibitions of the morning long since cast aside.

Soon after his hundred, a member of the MCC groundstaff brought him a drink. It was his brother, Billy, not a bad player himself apparently. They shook hands formally and then broke into a quick hug. Life is going your way when the family can stroll on to congratulate you during a Lord's Test match Saturday.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Blade-Runner on July 21, 2013, 11:05 GMT

    No surprise here.. LBW's follow Watson where ever he goes. The only surprise is that he didn't review it.

  • coldcoffee123 on July 21, 2013, 11:03 GMT

    If only Rogers could score at better than snail's pace, Australia's opening pair could actually put a decent 70+ partnership, that will give confidence to the rest of the batting as well. Right now, Watson has to do the bulk of the scoring and when the wicket falls at say 40, he has scored around 35 of those runs. For example, Aus is 24/1 with Watson out for 20. There is absolutely no contribution coming from Rogers. Aus must have thought that Rogers would be a good addition to the Aussie team. To the contrary, his addition at the top of the order has completely destabilized the Aussie batting. Someone like Phil or Warner would have complemented Watson very well. With Rogers at the top, I do not see any 100+ opening stand, let alone a 300+ team total.

  • TheBigBoodha on July 21, 2013, 10:51 GMT

    With no pressure after the inexplicable innings of 120 in perfect batting conditions against bowling that never rose above ordinary, England's batsmen had zero pressure, and were free to bat at their preferred two runs an over. Avoid risk and wait for the opposition to make mistakes.

    For me the 120 was the worst ever performance by an Australian batting team, simply because of the farcical self-destruction in perfect batting conditions. On that track on days 2/3, 400 would have been a par performance. At least with the 47 vs SA it was a total minefield, and SA were just as bad that day - lost 9/47.

    The bowlers have done nothing wrong, and Engand underscored in both innings, IMHO. It's just that the AUS innings made them look good.

  • dummy4fb on July 21, 2013, 10:08 GMT

    I think I can pinpoint the start of the gradual Aussie decline. It was not with Warne and McGrath's retirement. Rather it was in the 2nd test In Sydney in Jan 2008 against India. Australia won that test in very controversial circumstances to secure the Border-Gavaskar trophy following an appalling umpiring performance by Steve Bucknor. India then seemed to get inside Australia's head and turned the controversy to their advantage. In the following test in Perth on the bouncy fast bowlers paradise, Australia were supposed to be certainties to win, but with an incredibly timid performance they lost. They managed to draw the next and final test in Adelaide to win that series 2-1, but from then on they were never same with for example India defeating them in the one day triangular tournament immediately following the tests. I give you one guess to work out the main thorn in Australia's side in this controversy. As for this test and series, the final result is now a foregone conclusion.

  • whoster on July 21, 2013, 9:59 GMT

    England, and in particular Root with his magnificent century, have been ruthless. Saturday was probably an even more catastrophic day for the Aussies, as it put into perspective just how dire their1st innings effort really was. Time and time again the Aussies just don't show the application and discipline required, and that's why, over the past 2-3 years, they keep getting bowled out for ridiculous totals - in all forms of the game. I feel sorry for guys like Siddle and Harris - two fine bowlers who keep running in and giving it everything, only for the Aussie batsmen to make their efforts worthless. On and off the field, Australian cricket is a shambles. England are a tough side with plenty of talent and mental strength, but the fact that this Aussie side are making England look as good as their own legendary side of a few years ago is embarrassing. Having said all that, it's jolly good fun to watch!

  • landl47 on July 21, 2013, 9:46 GMT

    Interesting that Harris got so little bowling yesterday. Has Clarke already given up on this test and is saving Harris for Manchester, or has Harris picked up another injury? Otherwise why would the best of Aus's bowlers in the first innings get less overs than anyone except Watson in the second?

    I said before the series started that Harris and Pattinson in the same side was asking for trouble. Yesterday's inexplicable (as yet) failure for Harris to play a major role shows that assessment was right.

  • dummy4fb on July 21, 2013, 9:18 GMT

    very sad that the australian cup is empty.I remember back in 1984 thay were not winning much ,but all could see that a new crop of young cricketers slowly moving into limelight,Tom Moody, dean jones,steve waugh,craig mcdermott,Bruce reid geoff marsh,Boon were some who belonged to this list.Soon in 87 they won the world cup in India and have been a force to reckon with till recent past.Now we do not see any young talent coming through.very very sad.

  • VivGilchrist on July 21, 2013, 9:16 GMT

    England have outplayed Australia no doubt. Australia have a very good bowling attack, I would say better than England's. The problem is, is that they are only getting short break from being out in the field. They have bowled well to restrict England, but only have a little rest before going back out to score the bulk of the runs, and then return to the field to start bowling again. I think they're just knackered at the moment. On a side point, Bell should've been given out on 3, even Mr Gower was shocked!

  • CricketingStargazer on July 21, 2013, 9:09 GMT

    Talk of a declaration is ridiculous. Don't get soft and let the Australians off the hook. There are six sessions left. Does anyone really think that there is any danger of Australia surviving six sessions? If they could, they would make these runs... 150 more than any side has ever made to win a test.

    Declare no earlier than mid-morning. You can even make a case for making Australia come out for an over or two after lunch. Go for the mental disintegration that they used so much on us in the past. Five sessions is plenty. Get Joe Root up to his 200. Get Jonny Bairstow a 50 and some confidence. And leave the fielders want to die to end the pain.

  • android_user on July 21, 2013, 8:13 GMT

    I being neutral felt day belonged to England...Still, I don't believe Root played extraordinary innings, he just exploited poor fielding placements and below par Aussie efforts.