Joe Root scores fine century against India but needs support from other England batsmen
England captain Root has now scored four Test hundreds in 2021; the batsman has notched almost 30 per cent of England's runs this calendar year and now needs others to step up; watch second Test, from Lord's live on Sky Sports The Hundred from 10am on Thursday
By David Ruse
Last Updated: 12/08/21 9:36am
"He has put his heart and soul into this game," roared Michael Atherton on commentary as Joe Root completed a quite magnificent hundred on day four of the first Test against India at Trent Bridge.
Athers was not wrong - you could see the delight etched across Root's face - but it was his runs that England were incredibly grateful for.
Without them, the home side would have been toast in this Test. As it was, his efforts, plus a fifth-day washout, saw the match drawn and the series locked at 0-0 with four games to play.
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Of the 486 runs England made in the match, Root managed 173 of them, with his 64 the standout when his side were rolled for 183 on day one and his 109 from 172 balls the chief reason they made it up to 303 on day four.
England's next highest individual score in the match? Sam Curran's second-innings 32. Root, who now has over 1,000 Test runs in 2021, is holding the batting line-up together. The brilliance among brittleness.
England have never lost a Test in which Joe Root has scored a century.
More important than weight of runs, though, is when you get them and Root got his on Saturday when England really needed them.
The skipper strode to the wicket with his side 46-2, 49 runs in arrears, and India sensing a fourth-day win but, under intense pressure and without long-time England talisman Ben Stokes for back-up, Root delivered.
His cover-driven four off Mohammed Siraj from the third ball he faced was a sign of things to come in a classy and vital innings, featuring coruscating drives, confident late cuts and composed clips through midwicket.
He has lost his vice-captain, best friend and talisman in Ben Stokes, his gun strike bowler in Jofra Archer and in the background there is the growing anxiety of whether players will see their families during the Ashes. Joe is shouldering the burden in this creaking batting line-up, so that, and the technical excellence, made it one of his best hundreds.
Guardian cricket correspondent, Ali Martin
Root's tempo was also evident - his strike rate an excellent 63.37, significantly up on the go-slow 21.05 recorded by Dom Sibley, who either dug in or became bogged down depending on your point of view.
Root never missed an opportunity to score and to heap pressure back on India's high-quality bowling attack.
"I felt like I got my feet going really well very quickly," Root told Sky Sports' Ian Ward on Sunday morning.
"I had a very proactive mindset from the start of the game, knowing it was going to be challenging - balls in there might have your name on them.
"It's really important you get the bowlers off their length without taking too many risks, ultimately making it hard for them to bowl at you.
"I tried to use the balls in the channel [outside off stump] to score off. I felt in good rhythm, somewhere back near my best "
As Athers remarked as Root reached three figures, it was "one of his very best hundreds", save for a few skittish periods before reaching both fifty and his century.
On 97, Root's eyes lit up as he was gifted a wide ball from Shardul Thakur and he thumped it just short of Siraj at cover. Next ball, he hit to the same fielder, the ball after that he failed to connect with a cut shot.
But a delivery after that, he laced Thakur down the ground to seal a 154-ball hundred. The celebration showed exactly what it meant to him as he scored a century in a home Test for the first time since hitting 125 against India at The Kia Oval 2018 in Sir Alastair Cook's farewell fixture.
Root quipped about his conversion rate from fifty to 100 while speaking to Ward and while that may have been an issue in recent years, it has not been in 2021. He is now up to four Test tons for the calendar year having hit two in Sri Lanka and one in India over the winter.
If he had dipped below the apex group of Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and surely now Babar Azam, then he is definitely back in that.
He really is a cut above for England - which in itself is a problem. He is being asked to do too much.
While Root sits at the summit in terms of Test runs scored in 2021, England's next entrant on that list is Dan Lawrence (354 runs) in 18th. Of all England's Test runs this year, Root has scored nearly 30 per cent of them.
The middle order should be boosted at some stage by Ollie Pope, who is on the way back from injury, and hopefully down the line by Stokes as well, with the latter currently taking time out of the game in order to prioritise his mental wellbeing and to rest his left index finger.
Root spoke about how important it is for joy to come into his batting and the rest of the team. I think that is the right way to go. He is at his best when he is a cheeky chappie. England could do with some of the others following his lead. I know they are under pressure and not performing but you still have to savour the experience and enjoy the occasion.
Sir Andrew Strauss on Joe Root
So the main issues, as ever, appear to be in the top three - which currently consists of Sibley, Rory Burns and Zak Crawley.
Sibley bats like his wicket is the most important thing in his life, but if you spend all that time in the middle and then do not make a significant score, people will label you as a plodder not a platform builder.
It was noticeable how much more pressure India were under at Trent Bridge on Saturday when Sibley departed and Root, Jonny Bairstow, Lawrence, Sam Curran and Ollie Robinson played their shots.
Sky Sports' David Lloyd said: "Sibley is ultra-defensive.
"I get the impression that first up he is 'I'm looking to defend' and that makes England static. When England go into the Ashes they need to make a move and have two solid openers.
The Dom Sibley debate can be summed up by our xW model. The model suggests that had the balls Sibley faced been delivered to the average batsman, they would have brought 63 runs, but 2.4 wickets. Sibley overperformed one, underperformed on another. #ENGvIND— The CricViz Analyst (@cricvizanalyst) August 7, 2021
"You look at how technically correct the two openers for India are [KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma] and I don't see that from England's."
Sibley has only made one fifty in his last 16 innings, while Burns' scores of note are too often surrounded by a run of low ones. Crawley, meanwhile, is averaging 11 since his 267 against Pakistan last summer.
That has not been a breakout innings for the Kent player but an outlier.
All three no doubt give their heart and soul to the game but, like Root, they need to bring runs, too. He cannot keep doing it all on his own.
Watch day one of the second Test between England and India, at Lord's, live on Sky Sports The Hundred (channel 404) and Sky Sports Main Event (channel 401) from 10am on Thursday.