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Match Analysis

Five things that helped England to victory at Headingley

Joe Root's purple patch, top-order support and the continued rise of Ollie Robinson

George Dobell
George Dobell
After England levelled the series with an innings victory at Headingley, we take a look at some of the things that have started to go right for the hosts.

Root's remarkable run

It's been a long time since an England batter played with the consistency and freedom that Joe Root is showing currently. In recording his sixth Test century of the year - a century that looked inevitable by the time he had 30 - he not only drew level with the England record (held by Michael Vaughan and Denis Compton) but kept himself in with a chance of overhauling Mohammad Yousuf's record of 1788 Test runs in a calendar year. Root currently has 1398 which leaves him 390 behind with a maximum of 10 more innings available to him. The result also gave him the record for the most victories as an England Test captain (27) and ended a winless stretch of eight Tests. They had also gone six Tests in succession in England without victory before this; their worst streak since 1989-90.
The last few months have been tough for Root. He's had to contend with the loss of two of his best players, in Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer, and see his plans for the Ashes unravel. He knows his team are jaded by bubble life and yet he, as a young father and key player, has somehow found a way to unlock the best form of his career. England still face a struggle to win this series, but few could doubt that Root is the natural leaders of the side. "As long as I am enjoying it and I feel like I am the right person to take this team forward, that will be my focus," Root said afterwards. "As long as we feel like we are moving in the right direction and that I am the right man for it in my own mind, I am more than happy to keep doing what we are. I'm living my boyhood dream in captaining England."

Openers click

In recording England's highest opening partnership since the India tour of 2016, Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed went a long way towards "setting the game up", in Root's words. It's no coincidence that England's top four subsequently all passed 50 in the same innings for the first time since the Dunedin Test of 2013; in seeing off the new ball and putting overs into the legs of the bowlers, Burns and Hameed performed a valuable role in their first go at starting the innings together.
It was only one innings, of course. But while the number of ducks in Burns' career - he went into this match having been dismissed for six in his 14 most recent Test innings - is still a concern and Hameed did get a little bogged down on the second day, going 28 balls without scoring before his dismissal, this was an encouragingly solid partnership that provided hope of better times ahead. You would think Zak Crawley's game was pretty well-suited to Australian pitches - he produced perhaps his second-best Test innings at Johannesburg - but, if the Ashes goes ahead, Burns and Hameed have a fair chance of being England's opening pair in Brisbane. The way back to the Test team looks long and arduous for Dom Sibley.

Malan's assured return

It could easily be overlooked in light of more eye-catching performances elsewhere, but this was an impressively assured return from Dawid Malan. Despite having batted only once in first-class cricket this year, he demonstrated excellent judgement over which balls to leave around off stump and looked solid in defence. He has some attractive attacking strokes, too, including a sweetly timed cover drive suggesting that he has the game to make the No. 3 spot his own despite having rarely batted there in his first-class career. His dismissal, caught down the leg side, was a little unfortunate, but he should have taken confidence from this innings and the knowledge that his place is probably now secure for the rest of the series. Given that he seemed a long way from this side only a few weeks ago and hadn't played a red-ball innings in the interim, it represents a pretty remarkable comeback.

Robinson on the rise

In recent weeks, England have been without at least six seamers - Stuart Broad, Archer, Chris Woakes, Olly Stone, Mark Wood and Stokes - seamers who might have been selected ahead of Ollie Robinson. At the same time, it has become more apparent that James Anderson, for all his skill and good-intentions, is struggling to sustain his impact across entire matches. Dating back to the start of the 2020 international season in England, Anderson has claimed six second-innings wickets in 14 Tests at an average of 57.50 a time; in the same period, he has claimed 40 first-innings wickets at a cost of 17.30 apiece. But so impressive, so consistent and so effective have Robinson's performances been that he has mitigated against these other factors and may well have established himself as one of England's first choice new-ball bowlers. His performance here - he claimed his second five-wicket haul in his fourth Test (it would have been three in four, but for a dropped catch on debut) - won him the Player of the Match award and went a long way towards helping England achieve their first victory with him in the side. But it's not just the wickets that have been impressive, it's the manner in which he has taken them: hitting an immaculate length delivery after delivery and demonstrating an ability to move the ball both ways and also achieving bounce (only Kyle Jamieson releases the ball from a higher point in Test cricket at present), there seems no reason he won't continue to enjoy success.

Overton proves his worth

This was also Craig Overton's first victory as a Test cricketer in his fifth Test. And while his returns didn't grab the limelight in quite the same way as Robinson, this was a quietly assured performance. With bat, ball and in the field he played his part, with six wickets, an innings of 32 and a sharp slip catch. You know what you're going to get from Overton: he will deliver a high number of overs and thump out a consistent length all day. Yes, in a perfect world, you would love him to have a few more mph or an ability to gain a little more movement. But he is willing and able to bowl long spells, he will never take a backward step and, as he showed at Old Trafford in 2019, is the sort that is happy to bowl uphill and into the wind when others are not. He is, to use an old-fashioned expression, very much the sort you would want beside you in the trenches. It's entirely possible that, when England are back to anywhere near full strength, Overton will miss out. But he may well have pushed ahead of Sam Curran for a spot and, in reducing his Test bowling average to 30.93, and taking his batting average to 22.28, has shown he deserves respect. Overton is a tough, reliable cricketer and has never let England down. Every captain needs such a player.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo