England v South Africa, First Test, Day One, Analysis: Joe Root 184*

Freddie Wilde analyses how Joe Root adapted his game to score against South Africa’s pace attack while taking minimal risks. 

Joe Root’s unbeaten 184 on the first day of the first Test against South Africa was an intelligent innings against an excellent South African bowling attack.  

Arriving at the crease with England 17 for 2 and later reduced to 76 for 4 with the bowler’s finding significant movement off the pitch, Root’s innings was marked by a calculated approach to run-scoring. Although he was dropped twice early on in his innings, his method made sure he punished South Africa’s mistakes, and didn’t repeat his own. 

Shot-type analysis of Root’s innings illustrates that against pace he played the drive shot—a shot that is considered particularly risky when the ball is moving laterally in the air and off the pitch—less often than he has typically done in his career. Perhaps this was always his plan against three excellent pace bowlers, or perhaps, after driving at a wide ball from Rabada and being dropped at gully on 16 he reined himself in.

Either way, his reluctance to play the drive is made evident by wagon wheel analysis which shows Root to have scored just 15% of runs against pace in front of square on the off side, significantly fewer than his career average of 25%. Up until the 80th over and a late surge against the second new ball only 8% of Root’s shots against pace were drives and only 13% of his runs had come from the shot.

 CareerToday
Runs In Front Of Square on the Off Side25%15%
Drive Runs24%20%
Drive Shots13%10%

Without the drive, Root had to manufacture runs in other areas. Wagon wheel analysis shows he increased his percentage of runs scored in all of the other three sectors of the ground compared to his career average, most notably so on the leg side where he increased his percentage from 43% to 50%. 

 CareerToday
Behind Square Leg Side20%25%
In Front of Square on the Leg Side23%25%
Behind Square on the Off Side32%35%

Analysing Root’s shot-types and comparing them with his career shot types against pace show that the shot Root used most significantly more often than he typically has in his career was the work shot, which brought him 42 runs, including six boundaries.

 CareerToday
Worked Runs14%34%
Worked Shots8%15%

Root’s adjusted strategy and its success is further illustrated by ball-tracking analysis which shows Root to have scored at a notably higher strike rate against balls that pitched in line with his stumps and down the leg side in this innings compared to across his career. 

 Career Strike RateToday Strike Rate
Strike Rate off Stumps53.93109.37
Strike Rate Down Leg80.52121.42

Near the end of the first day’s play Root was becoming confident enough in his game-plan to walk across his stumps and take balls from outside off stump and hit them through mid-wicket. Ball 67.5 from Theunis de Bruyn pitched more than 20cm outside off stump but was hit wide of mid-on for four.

Putting away the drive shot as Root did was a tactic of restraint, but it speaks of his class that by the end of the day it was impossible for his natural flair not to shine through. 

Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz@fwildecricket

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