Ashes 2013: Joe Root lands return punch on Australia with career-defining knock
The punches off the backfoot were Joe Root’s signature shots during his knock in the second Ashes Test at Lord’s © Getty Images
By Sarang Bhalerao
In the build up to the Ashes, Australian skipper Michael Clarke resorted to playing mind games. Australians are the most dexterous people in this art. Clarke was surprised at the omission of Nick Compton as an opener for England at the Trent Bridge. The statement clearly indicated Clarke didn’t think Joe Root would be a threat to the Australians.
The captain had the chance to vindicate his statement when Root offered a simple catch while batting on eight in the second innings at Lord’s. Root’s genuine edge went past Brad Haddin and Clarke, who was standing at first slip. The scores 30, five and six were disappointing. And if Root would have been dismissed at eight, the inner demon would have taken the centre stage. “Do I belong to this level?” “Am I good enough to play Test cricket?” But the dropped chance changed Root’s fortunes.
On Day three of the Test match, Root just showed why English management backed him so much. Why the British media is right in calling Root a ‘precocious’ talent? The straight drive, the on-drive and the off-drive would have just found a perfect brand ambassador to endorse about the technique of the game. The shots had class and Root was well-balanced while hitting those shots.
Looking from side-on angle one wondered if Michael Vaughan was batting. The punches off the backfoot were his signature shots. The depth of the crease used by Root and the point of contact with the ball showed why that particular stroke is his bread and butter shot. Born and brought up in Geoffrey Boycott’s Yorkshire, Root grew up on the diet of patience. He is unruffled, not fussed by any situation, quiet — much like his county Yorkshire. For a 22-year-old he has an unflappable attitude and solid temperament. He also became the youngest Ashes centurion at the Mecca of cricket.
Sixty years ago Sir Len Hutton and Willie Watson — the two legendary Yorkshiremen smashed an Ashes ton in the same match. Sixty years is a long time, isn’t it? Root, it seems, is born to make many records. His face radiates pragmatism. He knows nuances of building an innings. He is not here to make the art of batting look beautiful. He struggles, he looks ugly but Root’s relentless pursuit is to weather the storm and cash in.
On his debut against India, Root showed glimpses of his capacity. Those 73 runs were a result of his grit, courage and levelheadedness. Against New Zealand his maiden Test century on his home ground was a compendium of sheer fortitude.
At Lord’s after reaching his second Test ton, Root — a contemporary batsman took over. The shifting of gears, mind you, is not easy. Till his hundred, his batting revolved around basic tenets associated with the traditional opener. Playing the ball late, keeping the good balls away and scoring off the balls which were meant to be hit. Water-tight defence gave very little hope to the Australians.
Talking about his contemporary batting, Root employed paddle sweep and showed more purpose to his batting. By the end of the day he received a lot of freebies. Two benign long-hops from Steven Smith were deposited over deep mid-wicket for sixes. Any ounce of hope that was left in the Australian psyche was being taken away.
Root is batting on 178 off 334 balls. When enquired about the prospects of scoring his maiden double ton by Sky Sports, Root was terse in his reply. He said it’s still a long way to go. This attitude is dangerous for the bowling teams all around the world. Root is still hungry. The immense run-hunger and the ability to bat for long periods gives England a solid option.
If Root received the punch (pun intended) from the Australians a few days back, he has most certainly delivered Australia the knock-out blow. It is a herculean task for Australia to comeback from a what could be a 2-0 deficit.
(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)