India vs England, 4th Test: England need Joe Root the batsman to deliver at Southampton
Since he made 80 in the first innings of the series, Joe Root has scores of 14, 19, 16 and 13. @Getty

Fact: Joe Root’s last Test century was over a year ago. It came against West Indies in Birmingham, in the first Test of that three-match series – an innings win that put England up 1-0.

In 14 Test matches since then, Root has gone 24 innings without a hundred. In this time, he has scored 911 runs at an average of 39.60, with 11 fifties and a best score of 83. Tellingly, England have won four of those 14 matches, losing eight and drawing two. This has spanned Test series losses to Australia (4-0) and New Zealand (1-0) and a 1-1 draw at home with Pakistan earlier this summer.

Now, as Root’s England play their most important Test in recent times, against Virat Kohli’s No 1 ranked India  at The Ageas Bowl in Southampton from today, they desperately need the skipper to fire.

In the ongoing series with India, England lead 2-1 but were hammered in the last match at Trent Bridge. Since he marked the series opener with a fluent 80 before being run out by Kohli, Root has scores of 14, 19, 16 and 13.

A flow of typically pretty 50s at Leeds, Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Christchurch and Lord’s has kept Root’s average healthy, but this has not been the Root that the ECB made captain after Alastair Cook. Since he became Test captain, Root’s batting average is 47.12 from 19 Tests, with two centuries and 14 half-centuries. As batsman alone, his average rises to 52.80 after 53 Tests, with 11 centuries and 27 fifties.

Joe Root struggles
Root has struggled in the series against India’s pace attack. @Getty

Clearly, the captaincy has not sat well with Root who has overseen the aforementioned Test series defeats to Australia and New Zealand in 2018 while winning against South Africa and West Indies at home in 2017.

As England look to close out a series win against India, they could do well with a serious contribution from Root. Getting some help from his batting team-mates would not go amiss, Root would probably say.

Because here’s the thing: in 35 of their last 65 completed Test innings since 2015, England have failed to put up 300. The reason? An underperforming top order, chiefly. In the past three years, England have found themselves four wickets down with less than 100 on the board on 31 occasions.

It has not helped England that since the successful opening pair of Cook and Andrew Strauss was separated in 2012 with the latter’s retirement, the selectors have been unable to find solidity and consistency at the top. Since Strauss exited the Test fold, Cook has had 13 opening partners and none was able to cement his place.

Nick Compton averaged 31.12, Sam Robson 30.54, Hasib Hameed 32, Michael Carberry 28.10, Adam Lyth 20.38. Alex Hales 27.28, Mark Stoneman 27.68, and his current fellow opener, Keaton Jennings, a lowly 23.16. The likes of Ben Puckett, Jonathan Trott, Moeen Ali and Jos Buttler were also used as stand-in options, but all struggled.

Only Root, who opened in six Tests, has an average in excess of 40.

In this time, Cook has scored 5621 runs at an average of 41.94, with 12 centuries. However, since he scored that unbeaten 244 at the MCG in December, England’s all-time leading Test run-scorer averages 19.38.

Alastair Cook
Since his 244* at the MCG in December, Alastair Cook averages 19.38. @Getty

Root has had to jump to Cook’s defence over the past few weeks, going as far as to urge critics of the former England captain to write him off  so that, in a fantastical turn of events, he hits form.

“He’s a world-class performer. He’s proven that time and again, and actually I’d like you to write him off, because every time he’s written off he comes back and scores a double-hundred,” were Root’s exact words after the Trent Bridge Test.

Down to fifth in the ICC Test rankings, England need their two senior most batsmen to step up at The Ageas Bowl. Considering the amount at stake for England – if they lose this series they will fall to sixth, behind Sri Lanka – this Test could be the one that spurs Cook and Root their team-mates on.