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

Root proves he can bat in all moods

Whatever is he asked, Joe Root has shown the awareness, confidence, range and selflessness to do it.

It must be disconcerting to have a Test match taken away from you by Joe Root. Like being mugged by a toddler, the face seems too fresh and boyish to resist the brutality of fast bowling or cope with the pressure and intensity of a full house at Lord's.

But Root can cope. No career comes with guarantees and Root will, no doubt, experience some lows amid the highs. But this century, the youngest by an English batsman in an Ashes Test at Lord's, cemented Root's position at the top of the order for the next decade or more. When Alastair Cook and Andy Flower and Stuart Broad and Kevin Pietersen are all pursuing careers as coaches or television pundits, Root will calmly, smoothly, tidily be winnings games for his country.

Root's maturity belies his choirboy face. He is only 22 and this is only his seventh first-class match of the summer but when he reached 70 he became the first man to reach 1,000 first-class runs in the 2013 English domestic season. By the close, he was within an ace of taking his season's average above 100. As befits his status as a saviour of English cricket, it was surely fitting that, when he was attacked by David Warner in that Birmingham bar, he simply turned the other cheek.

We knew Root could bat, of course. Since the moment he took guard on Test debut in Nagpur he has displayed the technique and the temperament to prosper at this level. He has the calm demeanour of a bomb disposal expert and a defence that can keep out the rain.

He can play some shots, too. His wagon wheel for this innings shows a man with a wide array of scoring opportunities; a man who is excellent off front and back foot, plays delightfully straight, admirably late and can change gear when required. Have England produced a more technically adept player in the last 20 years? Or might such praise be premature?

After all, Root should have been dismissed on 8 when he edged between Brad Haddin, who is quietly enduring a modest series with the gloves, and Michael Clarke. Had the catch been taken, Root would have failed to pass 50 in six innings as an England opening batsman (four in this series and two in the warm-up match against Essex) and speculation about his position would have grown.

But the England management would have taken no notice. They like what they see with Root and, unlike the talents of the past such as Graeme Hick or Mark Ramprakash, are determined that his ability should not be wasted. They were committed to him in the long-term come what may, though this innings will make the journey a little more comfortable.

This innings provided Root with an opportunity to showcase his range of skills. At first, both on the second evening and the third morning, he was challenged to survive. He was obliged to display the compact defensive technique, the judgement over which balls to leave and the concentration that will become legendary.

Later, as he settled and it became clear that this seam attack, for all its honesty and persistence, lacked the skills to threaten him, he began to pick off the poor ball with more confidence. He stretched forward to ease slightly over-pitched deliveries through cover and he rocked back to drive anything short the same way. Whereas he used to play in the air through midwicket, now his improved balance allows him to drive down the ground and turn the ball off his legs with less danger. A couple of the straight drives had Lord's purring with pleasure.

Then, as the bowlers tired, he had an opportunity to attack: long-hops were pulled for sixes, sweeps were improvised and, while his first fifty occupied 122 balls and his second 125, his third took only 64. If there is a fourth, and there may well be, it will be quicker still.

Root's greatest strength may be his ability to tailor his game to the match situation. Whether he has been required to block for a draw, as was the case in Nagpur, or accelerate towards a declaration, as at Headingley, he has shown the awareness, the confidence, the range and the selflessness to do it.

There was nothing soft about this innings. The Australian seamers, fine bowlers let down by their batting colleagues, probed around his off stump at good pace and, by tea, the pitch appeared to be deteriorating surprisingly quickly and offering turn and uneven bounce; a sight that must have provoked something close to despair in the Australian dressing room.

Even when the bowlers sledged him, Root looked up and laughed. And if there is one thing that irritates a fast bowler more than batting through a day against them, it is laughing in their face. He rarely pulled and Australia might have tested him with the second new ball, but the sense was of a mature batsman playing within his limitations who, by that stage, would have coped just fine with whatever Australia could throw at him.

Root later joked that his brother Billy, 12th man in this game, was "probably nastier than Shane Watson" during his regular trips to the middle. "He abused me all day while bringing drinks out," Root senior said. "He was just being his cheeky self, winding me up. He was telling me how slowly I was batting and how he would have smacked it to all parts."

There was no need to try to "smack it to all parts". This was only the third day, after all. There are different ways to be ruthless; this is England's way. Those suggesting England should have taken a more urgent approach on day three are missing the bigger picture. This innings was not just about extending the lead beyond the horizon and it was not just about giving the pitch another day to wear and deteriorate. Nor was it just about providing more time for England's bowlers to rest.

It was also about breaking the spirit of the Australian team. It was about forcing their seamers into fourth and fifth spells; about forcing them into another round of warm-ups and warm-downs; forcing them to pull their boots over tired, swollen feet and force aching joints into action again and again. It was about grinding them into the dust of this Lord's pitch and ruining them for encounters to come. After all, there are another three Tests in this series and five more to come down under. Mental disintegration they used to call it.

To Australia's immense credit, they kept at it admirably. There were beaten, certainly, but not broken. Not until Root and Bell were well into their partnership did runs start to flow. Not until Michael Clarke decided to protect his seamers for battles to come was the paucity of the spin attack exposed.

But batting in a hopeless situation will test that Australian resolve. There has been little about their batting in the first three innings of this series that suggests they are about to resist for five-and-a-half sessions. And they will know that, if they go two-nil down, it will take a miracle to salvage anything from this series.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • steve on July 21, 2013, 17:03 GMT

    And on that same 'dead pitch' referred to by TheBigBoodha, Australia are currently 214-9.

  • joel on July 21, 2013, 15:50 GMT

    That was a brilliant innings , and the pitch maybe dead . He still managed to see off every bowler , pace or spin . Those 2 sixes he smoked were glorious , as he can slog the ball as well as time it . True thought lets wait till he has scored hundreds against SA and India , before we go to mad on the praise .

  • Jeff on July 21, 2013, 15:27 GMT

    A makeshift opener in place of Compton? Firstly Compton is the 'makeshift' player, - an old grizzled county circuit veteran brought in as an emergency opener after Strauss retired. Secondly Root has opened for his county in every single championship, P40 and Twenty20 game he has ever played.

  • Nicholas on July 21, 2013, 15:03 GMT

    Well guys, as one of the few that were unhappy with Root's promotion up to open the batting, here I am, and you're correct that another failure for Root would have had me "rumbling on" about it. Let me just clarify I did not want Root dropped, and there's no way the selectors would have; I wanted him down in the middle order where he looked awesome before.

    There is only one way to silence critics/doubters, and that is to perform and perform well. Yes Root was lucky when on single figures, but he made the most of it and the rest of the innings was flawless and vibrant. Root plays the ball late, and I see nothing wrong with that, even when opening. I am happy; Root is happy; and I just hope Root (and England in general) can continue this form. What a fantastic series already, and it's only game 2!

  • Colin on July 21, 2013, 13:52 GMT

    I am a big fan of Keshavaram's acrostic type thing. Very creative indeed sir! Hitler though? Hmmm...I do find it hard to see how the leader of the 3rd Reich would fit into a description of Joe Root's young career. I am not sure of his politics but I trust they aren't akin to that of Adolfs. I would be very disappointed if they were I might like to add.

  • James on July 21, 2013, 11:17 GMT

    Not entirely convinced. Dropped on 8 on the deadest track imaginable and under zero pressure with England having a 250 run innings lead, enabling him to take zero risks. I doubt he will ever have it that easy again. But good luck to him.

  • Dummy4 on July 21, 2013, 10:04 GMT

    Joe is going to be a great batsman of England....... He should be given a full chance and time.... He can prove a lot

  • Merv on July 21, 2013, 9:54 GMT

    Reminds me of Michael Hussey. Can bat at any speed. The one who was forced out of the Australian team because he was too old ... Australia has lost a generation of batsmen to T20 and ODI cricket. Good potential but never coached in proper technique. The bowlers are OK. Take the lumps but coach the next generation properly.

  • Vishwaksena on July 21, 2013, 9:13 GMT

    brilliant knock by root . can make it 200 today . He repaid the selectors for what faith they have shown in him & certainly looks a good batsmen to watch out for in the coming years .

  • John on July 21, 2013, 9:03 GMT

    Yes, Root should have been out on 8 but he still had to score the runs after that to get to the score he did, and he scored them well. Many a big score has been made after a let-off. Take a look at Khawaja to see the way not to play after a let-off. Let's also not forget how many times Amla was dropped by England last summer and I don't recall anyone say that he didn't deserve the runs he scored, even though he wouldn't have made a single half-century in any format if not for drops. Obviously Amla has proven his credentials both before and after that series and Root still has something to prove but he's still proven quite a bit here.