There was an air of inevitability about Joe Root’s 23rd Test hundred, second on his home patch. From the start of his innings he oozed such authority that it never felt like the bowlers were in with a chance, until a Jasprit Bumrah nip-backer breached his defence and hit the middle stump. During his 165-ball 121, Root at times toyed with the Indian bowling – a slog sweep from further outside the off stump through wide mid-on for a four off Ravindra Jadeja bordered on audacious. The England captain let out his emotions only after reaching his hundred, with his father Matt watching from the stands. But going beyond another Root masterclass, the second day of the third Test was more about the hosts redeeming their lost pride through a collective effort.
Much to England’s delight, it wasn’t a Root lone ranger. Players skating on thin ice showed character. Haseeb Hameed and Rory Burns put on a 135-run opening stand, both scoring half-centuries. Dawid Malan, on his return to Test cricket after three years, had a ‘reply’ for ex-England national selector Ed Smith, who had questioned his ability to score runs in home conditions. England ended the day on 423/8, already enjoying a lead of 345 runs.
Headingley has been the theatre of miracles, from Ian Botham to Ben Stokes, via Shai Hope and Angelo Mathews. But India need the mother of all comebacks, something akin to a VVS Laxman-Rahul Dravid epic at Eden Gardens 20 years ago, to save this game.
Root’s numbers are Bradmanesque. This was his sixth Test century in a calendar year, three on the spin. In the process, he also surpassed Alastair Cook to become the highest run-getter as an England captain in a year. Cook had scored 1,364 runs in 2015. Root already has 1,398 in 11 Tests this year. His average in this series is touching 127.
Root’s wagon wheel today had an overload of square-of-the-wicket shots, 27 per cent of his runs coming in the arc between deep backward point and fine third man. In the form of his life, he took singles off good deliveries and punished everything that erred in line and length.
The day was overcast and nippy to begin with. But as the sun emerged, it became batting-friendly on an excellent cricket pitch. Kohli held back Bumrah for eight overs at the start of the day’s play and trusted Ishant Sharma’s experience. The veteran fast bowler was completely bereft of rhythm.
Mohammed Shami set up Burns with an off-cutter before cleaning him up with a nip-backer. Jadeja made one to straighten after pitching to castle Hameed. At 159/2, India still had a chance. Despite his limited-overs pyrotechnics and 199 for Yorkshire against Sussex in the County Championship in June, Malan had to overcome nerves. From England’s point of view, his 70 and fluidity would be the biggest positive from this game. No. 3 has been their problem area over the last few months. From Zak Crawley to Dan Lawrence and Hameed, trial and error became the norm. With two more Tests to be played in the series and the Ashes to follow, Malan building on this would augur well.
At the pre-match press conference, the 33-year-old spoke about how his red-ball career was affected by Smith’s decision. He was dropped after the first Test against India in 2018, with the then national selector saying, the batsman was “better suited to overseas conditions”. Three years without Test cricket, his long-form career was heading for a write-off before post-Lord’s a panic-stricken England decided to bring him back to the fold. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) abolished the national selector’s post in April, making Chris Silverwood all-powerful on selection matters. The England team head coach made the right call.
Playing at his adopted home ground, Malan showed intent right from the outset. A very good player square of the wicket, he wasn’t afraid to free his arms. The ball wasn’t doing much, and Malan didn’t hesitate to use his feet against Jadeja. It forced the left-arm spinner to alter his length. When Jadeja bowled short, the batsman targeted the cover-point boundary.
A faint tickle down the leg side off Mohammed Siraj, which only the UltraEdge could pick, felt like an anti-climax. He had creamed the previous delivery through covers for a four. Malan’s 139-run third wicket partnership with Root slammed the door shut on India. Between lunch and tea England scored 116 runs in 26 overs. That’s when the game completely tilted in their favour.
Ravichandran Ashwin’s omission could be put under the scanner, especially on a surface where a few deliveries turned off the rough even on the second day. Then again, after the marauding victory at Lord’s the winning combination picked itself. India are back against the wall because their batting imploded on Day One.
Shamik Chakrabarty … read more