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Joe Root shows grace under fire as India keep chipping away

England’s most experienced batter shelves innovations to score 31st Test hundred to keep visitors in the game

Joe Root was grit personified as he shelved all innovations to score his 31st Test hundred that pulled England out of a hole and helped the visitors finish the first day of the fourth Test here at 302/7.

Ranchi, Feb 23 (ANI): England’s Joe Root celebrates his century on Day 1 of the 4th Test match against India, at JSCA International Stadium Complex (ANI )

Akash Deep made a memorable debut, knocking back Ben Duckett, Ollie Pope and Zak Crawley with 57 runs on the board before Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja chimed in for two more but Root built three vital partnerships — 52 off 57 balls with Jonny Bairstow, 113 off 261 with Ben Foakes and an unbeaten 57-run stand with Ollie Robinson to keep England in the Test and in the series. From 112/5 to 302/7, England can only hope to cross at least 350 on a pitch that has shown far less demons than its appearance had promised.

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Any moisture that was present in the first hour of the day was exploited well by Deep as he made the ball dip dangerously into the right-handers. A no-ball denied Deep what could have been a show-stopping first Test wicket when he bowled Zak Crawley through the gates but he got him again in the 12th over with a similar ball that beat his inside edge. This was after Deep had already removed Ben Duckett and Ollie Pope in the space of three balls, pushing England towards the brink.

If Deep was the protagonist of the first session, the second and third belonged to Root, leading to an enthralling brand of cricket. For the first time, England didn’t throw it all away. At 219 balls, Root hit his slowest century since England switched to Bazball. For the first time in this series, England stayed wicketless in a session when they added 86 runs in 36.5 overs at 2.33 runs per over after lunch. Third session was better in terms of run rate (3.59) as England added 104 runs at the expense of two wickets, more than making up for the first session where they had scored at 4.63 runs per over but bled five top-order wickets.

It should have remained three had Bairstow not attempted to sweep Ashwin after racing to 38 off 35 balls. And then, for the umpteenth time this series, Ben Stokes was left shell-shocked by a Ravindra Jadeja delivery that didn’t rise at all and skidded into his front pad. It was only after Foakes proved to be a willing ally in dropping anchor that England began a much-needed repair job. Keeping the sweep shot to a minimum, playing the situation like they should have in many previous situations, Root rotated the strike by nudging the ball through the gaps and finding the occasional boundary.

Throughout the entire afternoon session Foakes worked on being the perfect foil for Root, playing with utmost caution till he fell three runs short of a deserving fifty, trying to chip Mohammed Siraj but finding Jadeja at short midwicket. Eight overs later, Siraj struck again, this time bowling through Tom Hartley’s defence while almost squaring him up.

Six down, England were quickly running out of able partners for Root but Ollie Robinson showed promise by clubbing a beamer from Jadeja over midwicket to bring up England’s 250. Luck favoured England too when Robinson survived a leg-before appeal from Jadeja batting on 8. Kumar Dharmasena had turned down a vociferous appeal from Jadeja and the slip cordon but replays later suggested that the delivery was hitting middle stump. India were to rue what could have been as they had exhausted all their reviews by then, Jadeja being part of two involving Foakes and Root.

Through all this Root was almost zen-like in his unwavering focus, playing every ball on its merit and rarely giving into the temptation of reverse sweeping. That only three out of the nine boundaries he had hit came against spinners was an outright indicator of Root’s discipline on a pitch that was deceptively two-paced. Otherwise he almost always played close to his body, exploiting the leg glance in particular that fetched him 24 runs, 20 of them coming in singles and twos.

The boundary that got Root his 31st Test hundred couldn’t have been more old-school, as he leaned into a cover drive off Deep, prompting massive jubilation at the England dressing room. “He’s probably the only bloke in our team who could have done that knock,” said Crawley later. “He’s our best player and he’s stepped up when we needed him to. We needed him to get a score and he got a score like he’s done for so many years now, he’s a phenomenal player.”

England needed that innings too. All the razzle dazzle about Bazball couldn’t have hidden the fact that England were conceding Tests to India by not consolidating on quick starts. Bairstow looked good to do that till that sweep did him in. But Root again proved himself to be a class above the rest by adapting and digging in when England needed him to but couldn’t have come to admit it. All in all, cricket had not failed to be interesting on the first day of a must-win Test for England.


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