The hangdog expression on Joe Root’s face after Jasprit Bumrah had clattered his stumps was ridiculous and telling in equal measure. Ridiculous because the England captain had 121 runs to his name – only cricket can see success end with such disappointment – and telling as regards his current unquenchable thirst.
Headingley had marvelled at the 23rd Test century of Root’s career, the third of this series against India and a sixth in 2021 to equal the English record held by Michael Vaughan and Denis Compton. Even if he failed to score another run in the last five Test matches of the year, he would still have 1,398 of them since 1 January.
There was little reason to feel blue either, with this latest batting clinic having driven England to a position of such outright dominance in the third Test that, by the end of the second day, a good number of the 16,721 in the crowd had already filtered out of the ground to continue their singing and drinking elsewhere.
Having rolled the tourists for 78 all out 24 hours earlier, Root’s men closed on 423 for eight from 129 overs and the lead had swollen to 345. There was broader satisfaction for Root too. Once more he was best on show but his colleagues were none too shabby, with each of England’s top four passing fifty for the first time since 2013 and Dawid Malan’s return delivering a fine 70 in a 140-run stand with his skipper.
Root’s day had begun by paying tribute to Ted Dexter after news of his passing and, on air, he referenced a couple of emails received from the former England captain. Dexter was a prolific blogger on his personal website, and among the posts sits some of the advice dispensed.
As regards captaincy, sent when Root ascended to the role in early 2017, Dexter preached a positive approach, offered some tactical pointers for the challenge of trying to remove Australia’s Steve Smith later that year, and amusingly signed off with the words: “Don’t let the buggers get you down!”
On batting, in a post dated November 2019 when Root had begun to tinker with his trigger movements and become slightly frenetic at the crease as a result, Dexter suggested he practise “the seldom discussed art of ‘waiting’” because “the longer you wait, the more time you appear to have”.
This has been a feature of Root’s personal annus mirabilis and was certainly the case during a first century on his home ground since opening his account back in 2013. The right-hander was in a hurry in one sense – 124 balls made this his third fastest hundred – but he is playing so wonderfully late; he seems to have all the time in the world.
When Root skipped out into the middle 20 minutes before lunch with the score on 159 for two it represented the first time since October 2015 he had done so with more than 150 runs on the board. The lead was already 81 after Rory Burns had been bowled on 61 by a beauty from Mohammed Shami and a similar collector’s item from Ravindra Jadeja had accounted for Haseeb Hameed.
This was a colder day, offering less swing than 24 hours earlier, but India’s bowlers had upped their game. Hameed became bogged down as a result, adding just eight runs to his overnight 60 and dazed by one Bumrah bouncer to the head. But his dismissal was still a bit of an optical illusion, covering his stumps immaculately only for Jadeja to turn one past the outside edge and deftly kiss the woodwork.
Root flew out of the traps, guiding a couple of fours through third man to take England to 182 for two at lunch. He and Malan, up and running by this stage on 27 and having earlier opened his account with a crisp cover drive, then set about an afternoon session of 106 runs to leave the tourists slightly floundering.
Both batsmen tucked into the final 12 overs of the old ball and so were well placed to take on its shinier replacement, with backfoot drives and late dabs a feature of two crisp, controlled half-centuries. The only apparent hindrance came when Root sought assistance from the umpire, Alex Wharf, after getting some dirt in his eye.
That was until Malan fell to the ball before tea, crowd favourite Mohammed Siraj strangling him down leg but only after talking Virat Kohli into what appeared an optimistic review. Nevertheless, however glum Malan felt walking off, his return to the side was a positive one, both by way of how composed he looked and a scoreboard that read 298 for three, presenting a platform for the incoming dashers to exploit.
This didn’t quite materialise as planned, even if England added 125 runs in the final session. Jonny Bairstow purred during a bristling 29 that promised so much, not least when Jadeja was whipped for a straight six, and was on hand to squeeze the life out Root when the England captain drilled Ishant Sharma down the ground for his century.
But with Shami wiping out Bairstow and Jos Buttler in quick succession, Bumrah finally cracking the Root code, Moeen Ali perishing to mid-on when trying to take down Jadeja and Sam Curran holing out off Siraj, India’s bowlers finally had some tangible rewards on a day that underlined the previous shortcomings of their batsmen.
On the plus side they have an abundance of time to atone second time around, even if England are yet to be polished off and Craig Overton, unbeaten on 24 after carving four late fours, was enjoying himself much like Root until his eventual departure.