How Joe Root constructed the captaincy-saving knock
Resisting shots through his favourite area, the covers, and shelving his pet stroke, the cover drive, Joe Root snapped his 14-innings century drought with a patient and potentially match and captaincy-saving hundred against New Zealand. It was the slowest and the least sparkling of his 17 centuries, but one where his fortitude shone the most.
Off-side discipline: Root likes to punch the ball through cover as well point. But of late, it’s been his nemesis, especially whenever he has looked to drive on the up. In general, his once compact off-side game and outside-the-off-stump judgment had tapered off. Where once he met the ball with resoluteness, he started nibbling and stabbing tenuously. So, in this innings, he changed tack. Instead of trying to force the drives on the back foot in front of square or through the covers, he began steering it through the gully and third man. Risk still entailed, but he seldom looked to manufacture the stroke but waited for the bowlers to err with their lengths. His first cover-driven boundary arrived off his 174th delivery.
Leg-side mastery: Root’s off-side game is often raved about. But on Sunday, he calmly waited for bowlers to err down the leg side. The Kiwis seamers frequently dangled off-side baits, even full, drivable ones, only to be dead-batted with a straight bat and striding front-foot or left alone. Even the middle-stump-bound deliveries were stoically defended. But anything on the leg-stump, full or short, he would ruthlessly consigned to the fence, garnering as many as 72 runs on the on-side. The flick—his most productive boundary-stroke (4)—stood out, and he did so with the expertise of subcontinental batsmen.
Back-foot bias: Root is a predominantly front-foot batsmen, unless he’s batting on a bouncy surface. The Hamilton strip was on the slower side, but Root was intent on hanging back, giving himself more time to judge the length of the ball. It was one of the reasons he could place the ball finely behind square leg (26 runs through this space). As a consequence, nine of his 14 fours were off the back-foot.
Focal Length: The England skipper has not exactly been struggling for runs, but for big, defining scores. Apart from a pair during the Ashes, he looked fairly untroubled, though contriving to get out when he was well set. In fact, four times in his last 14 innings has he absorbed more than 115 deliveries, but seemed cursed to get out softly. So it was more of a lapse in concentration than a serious flaw sneaking into his game. At Seddon Park, he rigorously kept his focus over 278 deliveries — the one loose stroke, an edge that flew over the keeper, ironically, ushered in his most awaited moment of the match.