Root’s assured century helps England recover well


England 302 for 7 (Root 106*, Robinson 31*, Akash 3-70, Siraj 2-60) vs India

A stirring century from Joe Root tempered Akash Deep‘s dream debut and pulled England out of trouble on an enthralling first day of what is a must-win fourth Test for the touring side in Ranchi.

Root, who had copped criticism for what was seen as some ill-timed innovation in the first innings of England’s 434-run loss in Rajkot, reverted to a more classical Root innings on Friday and it paid big dividends – his first century of the series (in fact, his first score above 29) and 10th against India in Tests. In doing so, he carried England to a healthy 302 for 7 at the close after they had slumped to 57 for 3 and, later, 112 for 5 with Akash claiming his first three wickets in Test cricket inside two overs.

Akash, the 27-year-old right-arm quick called up to replace a resting Jasprit Bumrah, opened the bowling with Mohammed Siraj and caused England problems almost from the outset, hitting an impeccable length and finding subtle movement on a dry pitch already displaying some cracks which the seamers were able to exploit for extra bounce on occasion. His 11th ball was a gem which nipped back into Zak Crawley and stayed a little low to sneak through the gate and send off stump cartwheeling but he and an ecstatic crowd were muted by the no-ball siren signalling he had over-stepped.

Crawley settled and helped himself to 18 of the 19 runs Siraj conceded off his fourth over with three fours in a row followed by a lofted six over mid-on.

England lurched into danger though, as Akash snared two wickets in three balls and then a third to all but erase his earlier disappointment. First, he had opener Ben Duckett caught behind off a length ball which pitched just outside off stump and jagged away slightly to kiss the outside edge, the bowler fiercely and repeatedly thumping the badge on his chest in celebration. Ollie Pope followed for a duck, lbw after India reviewed and replays showed Akash hitting the top of leg stump with a ball that seamed in to beat the inside edge and strike the pad right on the knee roll. Pope was down the wicket but it didn’t really help his cause in the end.

In his next over, the 12th of the match, Akash overcame Crawley’s pulled four off another no-ball with a perfect-length delivery outside off which seamed back in and pinged the top of off stump to remove the opener for a run-a-ball 42.

Jonny Bairstow staged a 52-run stand with Root but fell lbw attempting to sweep R Ashwin after a punchy 38 off 35 balls – and after India overturned Rod Tucker’s on-field decision. Then Ben Stokes was left dumbfounded by a full Ravindra Jadeja delivery that kept unbelievably low and skidded into the front pad at ankle-height on the stroke of lunch.

But then Root and Ben Foakes combined for a 113-run sixth-wicket stand which steadied the tourists through a middle session in which India went wicketless for the first time this series.

Root’s ton was built on hard, patient graft – a far cry from the enterprising England of the Bazball era. He faced 226 balls for his unbeaten 106, which included nine fours. He was well supported by Foakes, who fell three runs shy of his fifty when he chipped Siraj to Jadeja at short midwicket, having faced 126 balls including four fours and a sublime six over deep midwicket off Ashwin which brought up the century partnership with Root.

Siraj claimed his second wicket when he bowled Tom Hartley with a beauty that beat the outside edge and crashed into off stump. Hartley had just evaded second slip with an edge that didn’t carry but went past Yashasvi Jaiswal and ran to the boundary rope, his dismissal putting England at 245 for 7.

Root put on another significant stand, this one unbroken and worth 57 so far with Ollie Robinson, who was not out 31 at the close. Robinson, who replaced fellow seamer Mark Wood in the side, survived an lbw appeal from Jadeja on 8 when he was given not-out by on-field umpire Kumar Dharmasena. On replay, ball-tracking suggested the delivery was hitting middle stump but India had burnt all their reviews and were left to rue what might have been.

It seemed fitting that Root brought up his hundred via a textbook cover drive off Akash which ran all the way to the boundary rope in a flash a little while later, his 31st Test ton overall and one which had a hint of fairytale about it, given the furore over his reverse-ramp dismissal in the previous match.

Robinson provided a glimpse of the old/new England with a glorious sweep for six over deep midwicket off Kuldeep Yadav. He produced two more boundaries, a cover drive off another Akash no-ball to raise the fifty stand with Root and thumping Jaiswal through midwicket. The latter took England to the 300-mark which Stokes would have hoped to see when he won the toss on a pitch expected to deteriorate but which had seemed a long way off during the morning.

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor, women’s cricket, at ESPNcricinfo

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