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Joe Root’s most under-the-radar ton since Alastair Cook swansong bodes well for England rebuild

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J

oe Root centuries have not been as unusual since the beginning of 2021 as they once were, in the Conversion Rate Years.

Having made one in the First Test in Antigua, he has seven in that time. This was trademark Root: the elegant, energetic, unobtrusive elimination of risk. Its most memorable aspect was the celebration, when he kissed a necklace made for him by his son Alf, aged five. It came with the usual stream of statistics: his 24th in Tests, taking him past Kevin Pietersen into second place for England; his 13th as captain, past Alastair Cook for the most by an Englishman.

It was an unusual hundred for a couple of reasons, though. First, it flew almost entirely under the radar. Not since he scooted along in the significant shadow of Alastair Cook at the Kia Oval in 2018 – his final Test – has a Root century been the subject of so little discussion.

England’s over-reliance on Root’s runs is well documented. Last year, they only made one century beyond his six. Nine of his last 10 hundreds have been England’s only century of the match. This was their third, coming after more eye-catching and, frankly, important (personally and for the team) innings from Jonny Bairstow and Zak Crawley. There was much excitement in England making 300 in an innings for the first time since August (they ended up doing it twice), but this was the first time they have made three hundreds in a match since 2016.

You also have to go back to 2016 for another reason this was an unusual hundred. That is when Root last made a ton at No3. This was his third in the position (as opposed to 14 at No4 and six at No5).

This was Root’s 20th Test at No3 since his last hundred there. The uncertainty over where best to station England’s only consistent run scorer has meant this is his fifth spell at No3 in that time.

It feels important that he has got off to a good start there this time, especially after requesting the move himself, and a frenetic first innings which saw him bowled shouldering arms for the first time in his 115-Test career (he explained it away as “getting my angles wrong” when taking guard outside his crease).

Root making a success of the troublesome No3 position would be a huge boon for England as they rebuild from top to bottom. There are compelling reasons for him batting there; they are less likely to be 20 for two so often if their best batter is on hand to fight fires, and it gives No4 – a plumb spot – to a younger player to develop there. Of course his success or otherwise there will have plenty to do with the openers’ performance. Root was full of praise for Crawley’s restrained century, and it is too soon to judge Alex Lees’ readiness for this level.

AP

“I feel a lot more comfortable with where I am at in my career and this role,” said Root of his move to No3. “It’s quite disappointing I wasn’t the one to do what Jonny did in the first innings but next Test is another opportunity.”

Overall, Root had a decent week. His final-day declaration was unusually adventurous, and he showed greater faith in Jack Leach than he has previously (even if he was prone to whisking him off when bowling well). Still, the sense lingers that he gives Ben Stokes’ too much control over when he bowls, but Mark Wood’s injury meant there was more mitigation here.

“You can sense that he’s got everybody behind him,” said Interim Head Coach Paul Collingwood. “There’s a real unity. We’ve got a direction, we’ve got clarity, we’re very honest with our conversations at the start of the tour and he looks as though he’s enjoying his cricket. He’s playing with a smile on his face and hopefully he can keep putting in performances like he has in this Test match. You really sense a unity in the side and that’s positive thing and it will bring us good results.”

Collingwood added that it was “unfair” to say that Root’s leadership was more dominant because they left James Anderson and Stuart Broad out of the squad.

Either way, Root’s runs are always more likely to bring results for England than his captaincy. But if his team-mates’ performances make his centuries pass without much of a murmur, like this one, then England will be moving in the right direction.

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