Masterful Joe Root hauls England back into contention with India

For the second successive Saturday and the fifth time this year Joe Root delivered a precious century for England, batting through three intoxicating sessions of Test cricket that both underlined his golden form and, more broadly, why the longest format continues to capture the imagination.

As he walked off at the close, his whites scarcely betraying the toil of nearly nine hours at the crease, Root was 180 not out from 321 balls and receiving handshakes and back slaps from his opponents. The final wicket had just fallen at the other end, Jimmy Anderson bowled by Mohammed Shami, but England had put 391 on the board in response to India’s first innings 364 and a slender lead of 27 had been secured.

Where the final two days of this pivotal second Test go from here is anyone’s guess but much like last week’s 109 at Trent Bridge, Root has kept his side in the contest. Jonny Bairstow delivered 57 from No 5 and others chipped in but once again this was chiefly a case of Root strapping cymbals to his knees, a drum to his back and delivering a one-man band performance for both colleagues and supporters.

Root’s 22nd Test century means only Kevin Pietersen (23) and Alastair Cook (33) have more for England, while it was also the first time he has made three figures in back-to-back innings. Virat Kohli’s attack, led by Ishant Sharma’s three for 69 and Mohammed Siraj finishing with four for 94, found the 30-year-old simply impossible to dislodge.

But then 2021 is fast becoming Root’s finest year and over the course of a third day that saw him pass 9,000 career Test runs the trend continued. The right-hander offered steadfast defence, picked off wing-heeled singles and, after picking off the bulk of his 18 fours square, including some handsome cover drives, he signed off by taking on Siraj with an impish reverse-ramp and a crunching slog sweep.

There had been mischief in the air all day, to be honest. KL Rahul was understandably miffed by some tedious types firing champagne corks in his direction on the boundary rope, while one spectator in whites took the field after lunch. Funnily enough, pointing to the India badge above his paunch didn’t sway the stewards as they bundled him off.

Out in the middle things began serenely from an English perspective, Root and Bairstow batting through the morning to shave 97 runs off the deficit and take the score to 216 for three. Root progressed his overnight 48 to 89 by the interval, while his fellow Yorkshireman again hinted at a corner having been turned with his first half-century since 2019 following a run of 20 Test innings without raising the bat.

After a green-tinged start on day one the pitch had turned straw-cloured and sleepy but having started the day 245 runs in front, India never lost heart. Kohli’s seamers charged in with purpose despite the fading assistance and Rishabh Pant showed just how far he has come since his last visit to England three years ago with an immaculate, energetic performance behind the stumps. He is some cricketer.

India knew it would be a day of patience and this first paid off on the cusp of the second new ball being taken, Siraj delivering a barrage of bumpers from the Pavilion End and Bairstow falling head first into a well-flagged trap when an attempted pull shot caught the glove and popped a simple catch to Kohli at slip.

After watching the same ploy to Root produce a couple of flirtations with disaster, and wearing one on the back himself, this was a rather tame end to the 31-year-old’s highest Test score since his century in Colombo in late 2018. Still, he had looked tight in defence and helped add 121 precious runs with his captain.

Root was on 95 by this stage, England 135 runs still in arrears, and it meant Jos Buttler for company upon reaching three-figures. Ravindra Jadeja had just produced a fine stop on the boundary to prevent the milestone initially but when Root swiftly dropped a single into the covers off Jasprit Bumrah, he let out a guttural roar and gave a punch of the air as the Lord’s crowd stood in unison.

This personal milestone was secondary to England’s predicament and Root still needed allies. A stand of 54 with Buttler was useful before the wicketkeeper was bowled by an inswinger from Ishant on 23. Moeen Ali’s first innings against the red-ball this summer featured four typically buttery boundaries in a 72-ball 27 that otherwise sat in contrast to his recent pyrotechnics for Birmingham Phoenix.

By tea a sixth-wicket stand of 58 had pushed England to 314 for five by tea but the complexion of the day shifted once more. Moeen was the first of two wickets in two balls for Ishant as both he and Sam Curran edged to slip and the start of the fast bowler’s next over meant Root facing a hat-trick ball for the second time in the match; like his arrival on day two, this was successfully repelled.

In fact it wasn’t until reaching his 150 from 266 balls, prompting the latest chorus of cheers from the stands, that Root offered the first genuine chance of his innings, a guide behind square catching the top edge and offering a sharp catch at gully. Rohit Sharma, wrong-footed, could only grasp at fresh air.

The tail stumbled thereafter, Ollie Robinson lbw to Siraj for six and Mark Wood run out for five. But 20 vital runs were eked out alongside Anderson, the No 11 wearing a nasty bouncer to the helmet from Bumrah, and thanks to Root’s masterclass we could yet have a classic Lord’s Test on our hands.