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

Ben Stokes did not even wait for the umpire’s finger to go up, instead swivelling on his heels, walking off to the pavilion and, not for the first time on this tour, doing so with a wry smile visible behind the grille of his helmet.

The England captain had been struck plumb in front by Ravindra Jadeja for two, the kind of shin-hunting grubber that usually sees TV producers back home dig out the old footage of Carl Hooper snaring Nasser Hussain this way. England had ended a white-knuckle morning on 112 for five, the mottled pitch pointing to an innings that would be stuck in fast forward and unspool like an old cassette tape.

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But come stumps on day one of this critical fourth Test – a must-win match for the tourists at 2-1 down – the complexion had changed and not just regards the balance of power or the surface. Joe Root had masterfully chiselled out the slowest century of the so-called Bazball era and what may yet prove its most precious, his unbeaten 106 from 226 balls setting up a significant foothold at 302 for seven from 90 overs.

Root had been the lightning rod for much of the criticism that followed the rout in Rajkot, that collapse-inducing reverse-scoop viewed as Bazball in microcosm and its ruinous effect on the side’s premier batter. But by 4.04pm all that was in the rear-view mirror – albeit perhaps taken as vindication by some – when Root drove the hugely impressive debutant, Akash Deep, through extra cover to bring up his 31st Test century and celebrate with an ego-free wave of the bat to his dressing room.

It was a scene many had predicted when Jasprit Bumrah, his nemesis in this series, was announced to be sitting this one out but this should not lessen the quality of his innings. There was plenty to overcome, be it Deep’s surge out of the blocks first thing, Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin probing away with assistance, or a late burst of reverse swing from Mohammed Siraj that produced two strikes.

Ben Foakes was among these, chipping to midwicket on 47 when starting to free his arms after tea, but nevertheless played a key role in the pushback. For the sixth time in the past two years and the second time 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 for the sixth wicket in an afternoon of diligence.

This was Root’s day, however, slotting nine fours and hustling his runs with wing-heeled energy for his 91st 50-plus score that surpassed England’s previous (niche) record-holder, Alastair Cook. The reverse scoop was kept firmly in the locker. By the close, having seen Tom Hartley bowled by a howitzer from Siraj, he had Ollie Robinson for company, who was 31 not out from 60 balls on his return to the side.

All this seemed a world away at lunch when Stokes was bemoaning his luck and, no doubt, the cracked surface he had pointedly called “like nothing I have seen before” in the buildup. Stokes had won an important toss, no question, only for Deep, the sixth debutant in the series and the latest fast bowling cab off India’s bulging rank, to announce himself on the international stage.

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 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.

Striking 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, then pinned an advancing Ollie Pope lbw second-ball on review. He eventually got Crawley, bowled neck and crop, when the hard new ball decked in and left England’s wiry opener jackknifed at the crease.

Crawley had appeared set to make good on his reprieve, with the audacity to pick three successive fours off Siraj and then sign off the seventh over with a jaw-dropping whipped six over long-on. This flurry was a false dawn, likewise Jonny Bairstow tucking in for a bludgeoning 38 off 35 until, after a canny switch of angle by Ashwin, he fell lbw sweeping.

At the other end, Root had just about survived a huge lbw shout first ball, Deep the bowler denied when India’s review saw it missing with the impact outside off stump. This was the first of three reviews burned by Rohit Sharma, the upshot of which came late in the day when Robinson, clinging on to help Root through to stumps with nine overs to go, got away with an lbw to Jadeja.