Matches (11)
IPL (2)
RHF Trophy (4)
Pakistan vs New Zealand (1)
WT20 Qualifier (4)
Match Analysis

Root rediscovers touch to put the old school into Bazball

The slowest century of England's new era was a masterclass in being your best self to the benefit of the team

"He's probably the only bloke on that team who could have played that knock."
In an England team full of surprises, Zak Crawley emerging as the King Solomon figure of the Joe Root Culture Wars is up there. A player who was a little loose-tongued last summer cut to the core of what has been the month's biggest talking point in English Test cricket. With one sentence during his post-match press conference on day one of this fourth Test in Ranchi, he gave something to those who feel Root is too good to be simplified by the new era and to those who regard him as integral to it.
Crawley was right, of course. Only Joe Root could have rebuilt from five down at lunch. Only Joe Root had the capacity to hold together an innings with an unbeaten 106 to ensure England are 302 runs to the good with room to build further. Only Joe Root has the nous to deduce an unusual-looking pitch, at its most threatening in early morning conditions when the ball was new, could be ridden out through to stumps.
He sensed the opportunity to build on the hastily erected platform of 112 runs in the opening 24.1 overs of play by ticking over for the next 66 overs. And by the end, he had Rohit Sharma wondering how the thread of this day had been snatched away by a main protagonist who had struck just nine boundaries in 226 deliveries.
All of which, ironically, makes Root the ultimate Bazballer. For all that England have veered away from the word itself, they broadly define their ethos thus with the bat: playing the situation in front of you, absorbing pressure and, eventually, flipping it back onto your opponents. What subtlety there is can often get lost in the oversimplification of the term. And in morning sessions such as this one, where the five wickets make the sugar-rush run rates look cavalier, despite the fact only one of those dismissals was the result of an attacking shot.
Does Root get caught up in that? The botched ramp-scoop in the first innings in Rajkot, triggering a match-losing collapse of 8 for 95, is the gravest example. But this is no impressionable kid being asked to smoke behind the bike shed. These are choices made by a batter already regarded as England's greatest, just as there were plenty made here to compile what was his most "adult in the room" innings. And given the situation in the match, with England 2-1 down in the series, arguably one of his very best. So far, the ramp-scoop has not been seen.
Was this the Root of old? In some ways, yes. Aesthetic boxes were ticked; picture-perfect in defence, Milky Bar kid dabs behind point - where five of his boundaries came - and a familiar, two-right-feet nimbleness to spin.
But it was also far more subdued than his usual work. This 31st century was the third-slowest of Root's career, at 219 deliveries, making it comfortably the most sluggish under Stokes' tenure. Gilbert Jessop slept soundly throughout.
Root essentially riffed off the surface. His first boundary in front of square was a back-foot punch that is usually his calling card in hallmark knocks, but was given an airing just this once because the ball sat up nicely off a wide delivery from R Ashwin. A voracious sweeper in India, he barely played the shot. One exception was a reverse for two that took him to 78 - past the 77 combined he had managed from the previous six innings in this series. He did not drive even a single down the ground.
The celebration when he guided ball 219 through the covers off the impressive debutant Akash Deep to move to three figures was no real celebration at all. Off came the helmet, up when the bat to a rapturous dressing room.
Publicly, England players and staff have backed him to the point of laughing off questions about his form. "The law of averages suggests he'll fill his boots in the next two," side-mouthed McCullum after the Rajkot Test. Fair shout. Privately, Root has been understandably disappointed by his form this series. A reluctant smile when congratulated by his partner Ollie Robinson spoke of relief.
The bulk of Root's work here came with Foakes. The pair bunkered down for 113 off 261 deliveries - the first of 85 fifty-plus stands in the McCullum-Stokes era scored at under three runs per over - taking England to 225. They met at the start of the afternoon session, and were watchful for all of its 36.5 overs. They essentially played the part of the safety car in a Formula One race, regaining order with a slow, steady pace while the debris from the early crashes was cleared.
Foakes was very much in the passenger seat, and probably found the sunglasses he left in the dashboard from his previous ride. This was the sixth time the Surrey wicketkeeper had been involved in a century stand under Stokes, including both this series.
"I usually get about 25 of them," he joked after the first Test in Hyderabad, when asked about his penchant for three-figure stands after putting on 112 with Ollie Pope. He contributed 37 of the first 100 runs with Root, before taking Ashwin for 16 on his own in the 67th over.
The fact it was Root and Foakes dragging their team to higher ground was all the more intriguing given their place in all this. They are very much on opposite ends of this ideology. Root does not need to Bazball and, well, Foakes can't.
Foakes admitted as much during his previous series in New Zealand this time last year. "I'm not, as you'd say, Bazball," he conceded regarding scoring as quickly as his teammates, before going on to say a strength of his in this group is to be a point of difference by playing what he describes as "slightly more normal cricket".
It was a honest and courageous statement from Foakes, even if it is precisely what England's management team encourage. Players need to find a way to be the best version of themselves, and Foakes' "normal cricket" allows him to be that.
That is a little more complex for Root. Even as he rounds on 12,000 career runs after registering the most fifty-plus scores (91) by an Englishman, he has still yet to find his ceiling. And it is complicated further by the fact that he came into this new regime browbeaten by the rigours of captaincy.
His average across that period (46.44), set against what it is under Stokes (currently 53.43 while he is not out), tells a story of liberation. But the latter figure has also involved responsibility.
In the recent book Bazball: The inside story of a Test cricket revolution Root talks about the ramp shot - the effect it has on a bowler's rhythm and the field - before explaining it is, essentially, the embodiment of a concept: "That [shot] was my way of showing I was fully involved in what we were trying to do."
He was never a "Do as I do" captain but adopted that mantra to show the rest that they should not be afraid to be more expressive. It is typically selfless from Root. Almost to a fault.
Some two years on, that message has been heeded by all, even beyond the walls of the dressing room. Root will continue to err on the more attacking side for the good of the team. And yet this slow-burn masterclass might be his most selfless act of the new era.
It meant the blows in the morning were not terminal, and in turn, England take a strong position into day two. On a pitch that will deteriorate fast in a match they must win to keep the series alive, England are, at this juncture, in control.
Over Root's career, he has shown he can be many things to many teams. Here, he underlined that he can be everything to this one.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo