Joe Root’s calm century leads England’s fightback against India

<span>Joe Root acknowledges the applause after reaching stumps unbeaten on 106.</span><span>Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images</span>
Joe Root acknowledges the applause after reaching stumps unbeaten on 106.Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

As he drove the ball through extra cover to reach his 10th Test century against India and his 31st overall, Joe Root could have been forgiven for erupting with anger. Over the previous week he had been the lightning rod for criticism of England’s attacking approach; a master batter diagnosed to have been infected to his detriment.

Instead, 25 minutes before stumps on an opening day bent to his will, Root simply removed his helmet and raised his bat to his teammates up in the dressing room. It was ego-free, in keeping with a knock that saw any flashy new accoutrements replaced by diligence in defence, wing-heeled running and game awareness. And in the context of this series, England 2-1 down with two to play, it could prove pivotal.

Rewind to lunch and this was shaping up to be a match played in fast forward, with England the first to unspool. Akash Deep, the latest Indian fast bowler to come off their impressive production line, burst on to the scene with three wickets. And when Ben Stokes was lbw to a grubber from Ravindra Jadeja in the final over of a white-knuckle session, a total of 112 for five was looking as cracked as the surface.

Related: ‘The best player we’ve ever had’: Crawley’s praise for centurion Joe Root

But by the close the complexion had changed, both regarding the much-discussed pitch and the balance of power. Root had masterfully chiselled his way to an unbeaten 106 and, with the milestone coming from 219 balls, the slowest century of the so-called Bazball era. England, looking to set up a decider in the Himalayas, had established a significant foothold in the contest, closing on 302 for seven from 90 swiftly-bowled overs.

Perhaps it was telling that Root’s previous slowest century under Stokes and Brendon McCullum came in Wellington a year ago, similarly following a dismissal to the reverse-ramp a Test match earlier. Having reset during the short turnaround this past week, he kept the shot very much in the locker here, picking off only nine fours when possible and, wary of the variable bounce, played very few cross-batted strokes.

Aha, some might say, Root’s nemesis on this tour, Jasprit Bumrah, was sitting this one out. But none of the England supporters who looked on from the stands in Ranchi will think less of it. There was plenty to overcome, be it Deep’s surge out of the blocks first thing, Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin probing away with good assistance, or a late burst of reverse swing from Mohammed Siraj that delivered two strikes.

Ben Foakes was among these, chipping to midwicket on 47 when starting to free his arms after tea. Nevertheless he, too, had played a key role in the pushback. For the sixth time in the past two years – and the second on tour – England’s understated wicketkeeper had been one half of a century partnership, those low-slung hands in defence helping to put on 113 with Root during a wicketless, watchful afternoon session.

And before the close, after Tom Hartley’s off stump had been rearranged by Siraj, Ollie Robinson held firm with an unbeaten 31 from 60 balls. It was slightly curious that Rohit Sharma did not take the second new ball during these dying stages. The India captain had also burned all three reviews by this stage which, on a tricky day for the umpires in the conditions, allowed Robinson to get away with an lbw from Jadeja.

Sharma’s initial gamble came when trying to wipe out Root for a golden duck during a harum-scarum morning, an lbw shout from Deep that struck his mark just outside the line. On a mottled surface Stokes was slightly baffled by before winning an important toss, Bumrah’s replacement had got the SG ball to talk with lavish movement – primarily into the right-handers – plus the odd lifter.

There was a false start, initially, Deep sending Zak Crawley’s off stump flying out of the ground on seven only for a no-ball to see it scrubbed off. This has chiefly been an English disease of late – Stokes, Mark Wood, Mason Crane, Tom Curran and Saqib Mahmood among those to have had this sinking feeling on debut – but soon this 27-year-old from neighbouring Bihar was on the board for real.

Drawing instant comparisons with Mohammed Shami, all shoulders and tip-toed hustle as he charged in, Deep nicked off Ben Duckett with a beauty for 11 with one that nipped away from the left-hander, then pinned an advancing Ollie Pope lbw second ball on review. He eventually bowled Crawley neck and crop in this eye-catching seven-over spell, too, the opener positively jack-knifed at the crease.

Crawley had been making good on his reprieve, slotting three successive fours off Siraj and then signing off an already bumper seventh over with a jaw-dropping whipped six over long-on. Falling for a run-a-ball 42, Crawley’s flurry was a false dawn, similarly Jonny Bairstow, from 57 for three, bludgeoning 38 off 35. Bairstow, looking fired up by his own recent criticism, was out lbw trying to sweep Ashwin off his stumps, the spinner’s 100th wicket against England to go with it.

The day was instead shaped by the other Yorkshireman with a point to prove. Root did survive a tight lbw call on 16, and later saw a fine tickle down leg on 48 missed by the wicketkeeper Dhruv Jurel (although it was given as byes). By the close, Root having hauled England into a position of strength, all caveats had gone the way of the reverse ramp.