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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Joe Root wins Test for England having been left to do what he does best | England v New Zealand 2022

The rain was hard enough to wake the sleeping on Sunday morning, and it was easy to imagine the players were up early to check the weather. It looked a good day for bowling – damp, dark, and overcast, as if the English summer had got lost somewhere in the west after sunset the previous evening and was still trying to find its way back around to the ground. Tim Southee and Trent Boult, who have played a lot of cricket here in the past 14 years, knew that conditions don’t get much better for men in their line of business. “They were as good as you could hope for,” Kane Williamson said later.

Mornings always feel a little foreboding for English batsmen these days given the way the team have been playing, but this one was especially ominous. Usually Joe Root would have been up suffering with worry about it. He says he had found it increasingly hard to sleep in the last few months of his captaincy, the cares he had gone to bed with the previous evening burst back in on him as soon as he was awake again – bowling changes, field placings, form, fitness, media commitments. He says it had become an “unhealthy relationship”, that it was affecting his fitness and dragging him, and his family, down.

“I think I was unaware of how much it was grabbing a hold of me, as soon as I made the decision to step down I knew it was the right thing to do. I felt like a big weight had been lifted. As hard as it was, I immediately felt a lot better.” From now on, Root doesn’t have to think about any of it. On this Sunday morning he had only one thing to worry about, the one thing that has always come easiest to him. His own batting.

After three days, there was perhaps an hour left in the match. England needed 61 to win and, while they had five wickets in hand, their batting is so thin and brittle that New Zealand really only needed to take one of them, Root’s, and the match would swing back their way. All they needed was one more good ball, or one more bad shot. In the end, they didn’t get either. Root played so well, with such authority, that he made the game an anticlimax. England won so quickly that New Zealand didn’t even get to use the new ball they were waiting for, and the MCC ended up having to pay out a full refund to everyone who had come.

Pick, pack, pock, puck, a single here, two there, the odd four in between it all, a sweep, a drive, a nudge off his hips. At one point he cursed himself for picking out a fielder. He expects better of himself.

Joe Root scores the runs to bring up his century and to get to 10,000 Test runs.
Joe Root scores the runs to bring up his century and to get to 10,000 Test runs. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Root has scored a lot of centuries for England, 26 altogether, and nine in the past two years. The unbeaten 115 he made here ended up as one of his very best. He had settled the innings when he came in on Saturday evening, took just 40 runs off his first 100 balls, then accelerated again after Ben Stokes had got out and took 37 off his next 41 while Ben Foakes held steady at the other end. That left Root 77 not out overnight, 23 runs away from his century, and 23 runs away, too, from reaching 10,000 runs in Test cricket. He is the second Englishman to get there, after Alastair Cook, but he wasn’t really thinking about the achievement.

“Winning was all I could think about,” he said. “It’s been a long time for this team.” Nine months and eight days, to be exact, a run of nine Tests spread over three series in England, Australia, and the West Indies. You guess he would happily give away some of those runs in exchange for a few more wins. It is not as if he couldn’t afford it. Root is only 31, he could go on and on, up to Cook’s final tally of 12,472 Test runs and beyond.

Root pursued his lips when he was asked how highly he rated this century. He said it felt like one of the best he has had ever played, but he is batting so very well that he is acutely aware of even the tiniest mistakes, so he dwelled on the one imperfection, when he cut the ball past his own stumps on 92. “I rode my luck a little bit.” They say the best Persian carpets always contain a deliberate mistake in the pattern just to prove they were made by someone mortal. That one false shot of his felt similar.

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Root did say that it was perhaps the most enjoyable of his 26 centuries. He is obviously relishing this “next phase of his career”. Stokes is one of his best friends in the game, and he was genuinely delighted to be able to begin to pay him back for all the many occasions when he had dug his England team out of whatever hole they were in.

“It’s my turn,” he said, “my turn, and that’s a great motivator for me, when I think about the amount of amazing things Ben has done for this team under my leadership, it’s a great opportunity for me to do just that for him. I’m not sure I’ll be able to do some of the things he’s done, but I’ll try.”

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