England drew level with India in the ODI series thanks to a wonderful century from Joe Root – Ben Jones analyses how Root’s skill-set was exactly what England needed.
As the sporting world awaits the climax to the football World Cup in Russia tomorrow, with a final taking place between France and Croatia, today saw an equally auspicious day in the world of cricket. The 2019 World Cup will be played in exactly 12 months time at Lord’s the venue for today’s match between England and India.
For many onlookers, these two are the outfits we’re most likely to see take to the field on that day, the two outstanding ODI teams in world cricket. As such, this series has really felt like a dress rehearsal for next year’s competition, the two sides just feeling each other out, trying to find areas of weakness. India undoubtedly exploited England’s technical issues against wrist-spin at Nottingham, and will have that up their sleeve for next year regardless of how the rest of this series goes.
Equally, individual players are jostling for position. For England, despite their recent batting wonders, Joe Root has been under increasingly serious pressure coming into this match. The first rumblings of discontent came to the surface after his demotion to No.7 in England’s World Record total at Nottingham a month ago, as power-hitters were promoted above him. Those were mostly humorous suggestions that he should be dropped, given those ahead of him, but few were seriously advocating his removal from the team.
However, a poor run of form (and being dropped from the IT20 side) has seen that pressure become increasingly real. Alex Hales’ side injury has probably eased the fear in Root’s mind that he may actually be dropped, but the sense that he wasn’t achieving what he could be was growing. As such, his century today will have been a huge weight off his shoulders.
Indeed, it has been an odd year for Root. He’s played fewer attacking shots than he has in the previous four years of ODI cricket, combined with greater control than he’s managed in his career to date. In a side which has been pinning it’s ears back and trying to go harder and faster, Root’s been settling in and trying to occupy the crease.
Yet it’s that assured, controlled demeanour which has seemed to rile his critics. In a team full of blasters, Root stands out as a secure stylist. Of England’s top six, Root scores the slowest when playing attacking shots, which shows the limit of his power-hitting abilities; however, he is dismissed more rarely with those shots than the other England players.
However, whilst the sight of Root trying to clear the boundary may sometimes bring frustration, the flipside is that England’s Test skipper is top-class at staying busy at the crease. Today’s innings saw just 7.73% of Root’s deliveries hit to the boundary, the lowest figure for any of his last nine ODI centuries, and it was that sort of a pitch, one where nudging and nurdling was important. This was exactly the sort of surface and situation that Joe Root is in this ODI team for, and as the graphics below make clear, he rotated his way through this match.
If that was a long-term worry banished, he also managed to deal with a more short-term issue. Before this match, Root had an odd relationship with left-arm wrist-spin. The only bowler of that type he’s faced in his entire career was Kuldeep Yadav, and the inexperience showed – Kuldeep had him out twice in three balls across the tour so far. Yet today, Root negotiated him successfully, not playing and missing once, edging just 7% of his deliveries, all while scoring at a healthy 6.82rpo. For today at least, his kryptonite was ineffective. Kohli may think twice about fast-tracking Kuldeep into the Test squad if England’s other batsmen can follow Root’s lead.
Overall, it was an immensely positive day for Root, who also drew level with Marcus Trescothick as the England batsmen with most ODI centuries. Amongst the rapid-fire half-centuries on show, the blitzing at the death and the pinch-hitting, it’s important to still remember that some old-fashioned white ball wisdom remains true. A century, provided it’s at a decent rate, from a top order batsman will always set up the innings. For this England team that role has to be one Root perfects; today should be the template.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.