S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. @rajeshstats
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There is little doubt that 2021 has been a dismal year for England in Test cricket: they have lost more matches (nine) than they ever have in any previous calendar year. At the heart of this debacle has been the batting: an average of 24.13 runs per wicket is the lowest for England in any year when they have played at least 10 Tests, and the second-lowest with an eight-Test cut-off. Not only has 2021 been a terrible year for England's batters, it has been tough for batters in general: the average runs per wicket is the second-lowest its been in the last 40 years.
In the midst of these batting lows, Joe Root has gone ahead and amassed 1708 runs, the third-highest ever by a batter in a calendar year. His aggregate is 802 runs more than the next-highest in 2021 - Rohit Sharma's 906 - and 1178 more than the next-best from his own team: Rory Burns' 530. Never before in Test history has there been such a wide gap between the top two run-scorers for the year, whether for the same team or overall among all teams.
It helped, of course, that Root batted 28 times in Tests in 2021. The two batters who have scored more in a year, Mohammad Yousuf and Viv Richards, both batted only 19 times. Also, Root's average of 61 is the lowest among the eight instances of batters scoring 1500-plus runs in a year. However, look at those numbers again in the context of how much support these batters got from their team-mates, and Root moves up from bottom of the class to the top.
In the 15 Tests he played in 2021, Root scored 1708 runs with six hundreds; the other England batters collectively scored 4396 runs and were dismissed 242 times, with only one hundred. Root averaged 61, while the others averaged 18.17. The ratio of 3.36 is the highest for the eight batters who have scored 1500-plus runs in a calendar year. In fact, in the other seven instances, the support cast averaged more than 25; in Root's case, the other England players barely touched 18. In terms of ratios, the next-best is Richards' 1976 effort: he averaged 90 while the other West Indians managed only 28.15.
England's top three had a wretched year. They averaged 21.33, with just one century from 87 innings - Burns' 132 against New Zealand at Lord's. The average of 21.33 is easily the lowest among all teams in 2021, and England's lowest in a year since 1989, when they averaged 18.21 in 33 innings. The brittle top three meant that when Root came in to bat at No. 4 - which he did in 28 out of 29 innings this year - the average score was 35 for 2. (The average at the fall of the second wicket was 35.21.) That is the lowest average score at two down for any team in a year when they have played at least 10 Tests; the next-lowest is 42.15, by West Indies, also in 2021.
This means Root came in to bat almost always after England had lost a couple of early wickets. In 15 out of 28 innings when he batted at No. 4, England had lost their second wicket before the score had reached 20. In those 15 innings, he averaged 48.13, with two big hundreds against Sri Lanka in Galle - 228, after he came in at 17 for 2, and 186 (5 for 2). When he came in later, his average was over 70, which suggests he would have been even more prolific had England's top three been more solid.
Thanks to England's brittle top order, it was Root or nothing for them throughout the year. He top-scored in 12 bowled-out innings, the highest for any batter in a calendar year, and he was involved in nine of the team's 11 century stands, the highest in terms of percentage in any year when a team has had at least 10 century partnerships. Given that Dawid Malan was the only other England player to average more than 30, these stats aren't a huge surprise.
Overall, Root scored 27.98% of England's bat runs in 2021, which is the second-highest for any batter with a 10-Test cut-off (runs scored by the batter as a percentage of total bat runs, in the matches he played). The highest is Richards' 28.55% in 1976. Even with a five-Test cut-off, Root comes in the top five, next only to Don Bradman, Richards and Clyde Walcott.
In short, Root dominated England's batting numbers like no batter has done for any team in the last 60 years. It's a pity that despite those phenomenal stats, England lost a record number of Tests in 2021.
With inputs from Shiva Jayaraman