For a batsman as gifted as Joe Root, scoring a first century of the English summer in mid-July must constitute an unusually long wait. After 18 unsuccessful attempts across all formats, Root finally registered three figures in an innings at Lord’s on Saturday, and then promptly followed it up with another in the third ODI against India to seal England’s come-from-behind series victory.
Both hundreds were unbeaten efforts in winning causes, and they could prove timely for another reason. England are set to embark on a demanding Test series against India, with five matches scheduled over six weeks from August 1, and to have their captain’s faith in his batting reaffirmed – albeit against the white ball rather than red – cannot do any harm. Root’s conversion issues have been even more acute in the longest format, but he will hope that a first Test hundred in 12 months is on the horizon.
“It’s been a weird one really, I’ve not felt like I’ve been playing poorly or there’s been any sort of glaring mistakes in my game,” he said. “I think that’s why it was more frustrating but, ultimately, I had a think about how I wanted to go about things this series and I just went back to what has held me in really good stead for such a long time – trying to keep focusing on playing the situation, letting the guys bat around me and giving them the freedom to go and play. Over the course of the last two games, obviously it worked nicely.”
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of England’s eight-wicket stroll at Headingley was the fact that India’s spinners, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, were kept wicketless on a surface that had aided Moeen Ali and, in particular, Adil Rashid. Kuldeep started the T20I and ODI series with a five-for and a six-for respectively, and has been included in the Test squad; however, after being dismissed twice off the first three balls he had faced from the left-arm wrist-spinner, Root found a way to adapt.
In an exceptionally dry English summer, India’s spinners – which include Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin, third and fifth on the ICC Test rankings – will pose a major threat, but Root said he had focused on the basics of footwork rather than using the spin-bowling machine Merlyn to practise against.
“One thing that’s very easy to do is over-analyse things, over-think things,” Root said. “I felt like I was picking him fine and when you look at it for what it actually was, both games my movements weren’t quick enough and I wasn’t getting close enough to the ball, either going forward or back. The best players of spin in the world, their footwork is always sharp and when that contact point is there, you’re as still as possible. Under-arm feeds, trying to get close to the ball, [it is as] simple as that and the mindset of either giving myself as much time as possible or smothering the spin.”
The question of England’s mental approach was at the forefront of Root’s thinking as he turned his focus to the Test series. Asked if he thought overcoming India in the ODIs gave England an edge, he suggested that their performance in beating Pakistan by an innings at Headingley last month – following a chastening defeat at Lord’s – was more significant as he seeks a steadier footing for the Test team after an up-and-down start to his captaincy.
“Maybe slightly for the guys that have been involved in it [the one-day series] but it’s a completely different format and I think more importantly take all the good stuff we did in that last Test here, against Pakistan and try to replicate as much of that as possible – the way we went about it, the things that we did throughout that game, it left us a good benchmark,” Root said.
“There will obviously be different surfaces, different challenges throughout but the way we approached it as a group, the mindset and attitude was really good. It was a good starting point for this team to kick-on after what’s been a difficult winter. That’s how I am going to judge it and that’s what I am going to put to the guys: how can we take that forward now?
“There’s going to be a few challenges. We’ve not played Test cricket for quite a long time throughout this summer, which is quite strange really – it’s been a strange order to the way things have gone – but we’ve got an opportunity to play a round of county games now and get really ready for it, a few guys are obviously playing in that Lions game as well and I think it’s really important we look to start strong.”
As for his most recent hundred, there was one moment Root wanted to quickly forget. After reaching his 13th ton in ODIs, surpassing Marcus Trescothick’s record for England, with a pulled four from the final ball of the chase, Root dropped his bat in MC style; but despite England Cricket tweeting approvingly, his team-mates were less impressed with such a sign-off.
“It was something that I immediately regretted,” he said. “I’ve not heard the end of it, it was literally the most embarrassing thing I’ve done on a cricket field. I don’t think it will be the last I hear of it from the group – they’ve been hammering me.
“You’d think if you were going to do a celebration like that, you’d have smacked it 30 yards… it was just an absolute car crash.”