Joe Root announces himself on India tour with timely England century in Fourth Test

Joe Root announces himself on India tour with timely England century in Fourth Test

Joe Root rose above the carnage of a frantic morning session and the strange mediocrity of his own tour so far to rescue England with a masterful hundred on the opening day of the crucial Fourth Test in Ranchi.

Choosing first use of a fiendish surface that England captain Ben Stokes had described as unlike any he has seen in his career, the tourists lost five wickets before lunch at the start of a contest that, at 2-1 down in the five-match series, they must win to stay alive.

From 112 for five, though, a partnership of 113 between centurion Root and Ben Foakes arrested the slide, the former unbeaten in taking England to 302 for seven at the close of play.

On the eve of the Test, head coach Brendon McCullum had spoken of Root’s return to form as a matter of inevitability, England’s premier batter having averaged just 13 in the series and looking increasingly muddled in search of a balance between methods old and new.

His hand forced as much by circumstance and conditions as the backlash to his reverse-scooping Rajkot demise, this was Root back to his natural best, risk-free, rotating and clinical, every inch the cliched genius batting on a different track.

The shot of the day, a wonderful drive threaded through extra-corner, brought up the 31st Test match ton of one of the great careers and, should England go on to force a Fifth Test decider, this will be regarded among the most important of the lot.

Foakes, likewise, looked far more at ease backed into a corner of relative caution. A score of 47 was the wicketkeeper’s best of the series and his 126-ball resistance timely, he and Root becoming the first English pair to negate an entire session unmoved all tour between lunch and tea, just as the series looked in danger of slipping away.

The contrast with the chaotic two-hour first act, in which every delivery seemed to bring either a chance, boundary or scalp, could hardly have been more extreme.

The absence of the rested Jasprit Bumrah - the world’s best, and this series’ most prolific, bowler - had rightly been hailed as a boon for England, and Root in particular. But this is India, where cricketing talent is two-a-penny and hot on the heels of Sarfaraz Khan’s blistering, belated debut in Rajkot came another.

At 27, Akash Deep is no novice, more than a hundred first-class wickets already to his name, and the seamer made the next step look a simple one in accounting for England’s top-three in his first morning’s work in the Test sphere.

Zak Crawley, eventually the last of those to fall, would have been the first had the newcomer not overstepped when sending a glorious delivery nipping through the gate in only the fourth over of the day. In thankless conditions, Crawley made fine use of the reprieve, at one stage stroking four boundaries in succession off Mohammed Siraj, the last of them a six, on his way to a run-a-ball 42.

Scares and close-shaves, though, were frequent and in Akash’s fifth over, England’s luck ran out, Ben Duckett caught behind feathering one that nipped away, before Ollie Pope fell without scoring two balls later, his glorious 196 in the series opener drifting a little further into rear-view.

In fairness, Pope, clearly, has riled some DRS overlord in a previous life, the Surrey man a long way down the track when undone by a superb Indian review that looked to have little on its side in real-time. When Crawley soon followed, his stumps again dismantled by Akash and this time from legal distance, India had seized control.

Jonny Bairstow, with his trademark point to prove after a run of low scores, rumbled out of the traps, slogging Ravichandran Ashwin into the seats to race into the thirties.

The pitch by now, though, was on its very worst behaviour and if Bairstow felt unfairly deceived by some low bounce when pinned trying to sweep Ashwin then Stokes’ dismissal to Ravindra Jadeja soon after put things in perspective. Out of the hand of one all-rounder and on its way to what, for the first time in the series, might well prove another, the final delivery before lunch hit the deck and simply refused to climb at all, a disbelieving Stokes and his freshly bruised ankle turning and walking before the finger was raised.

The discussion at lunch, then, was of whether this contest might make it as far as the same meal in two days’ time, the wisdom that even 200 might make a good score.

Thanks to Root, the picture for England looks rather rosier than that.