Joe Root admitted his delight at being able to lead from the front with a century in England’s first Test of an epic 2021, after time spent agonising over his poor conversion rate of fifties to hundreds.
Root has England’s highest individual score in Sri Lanka, 168 not out, at the end of a second day in Galle which saw England forge ahead. They lead by 185 with seven first innings wickets in hand.
Root put his performance down to “being a bit more ruthless, a bit more stubborn and trusting my defence a little bit more at times” against spin. It brought him his 18th Test century and first since 2019 in Hamilton. Root’s two most recent hundreds came when England could no longer win the series, so he was delighted to stamp his mark early this time.
“I’m extremely pleased,” he said. “I did a lot of talking ahead of this year I thought it was really important to go out there and do it myself. It felt like a long time coming and I’ve got to build on this, really make it count, make it as big as possible and drive this first innings lead as high as we can and do all we can to get a strong score that means we only bat once.
"It’s a really nice start. Without trying to go through every cliche in the book, all it is is a start right now. Again, their first innings showed exactly what can happen here: very quickly lose a couple of wickets and all of a sudden you’re not as in a strong a position as you might have thought. It’s really important that we stay ruthless, we really make the most of this brilliant start that we’ve got and get that big first innings score that should enable us to have something to bowl at.
“I felt I got in a really good mindset throughout this game so far. I’ll try and take that forward into the rest of this winter tour and beyond. I think the previous couple of hundreds I have got, even though they’re a while ago, have come at the end of series. To get one at the start of a very long winter is quite exciting and hopefully I can take that forward into the rest of the games.
Root admitted that his conversion rate – he has 49 unconverted half-centuries in Test cricket – has troubled him, and that he has “overthought” and “hyped up” the issue.
“I’ve always been desperate to try and convert those fifties into big scores,” he said. "But generally when I get to hundred I make it really count. I’ve got quite a good record past 100 so tomorrow I’m trying to make that another really big one and drive the game forward from there. I felt I got in a really good mindset throughout this game so far.
“For the last year, two years, I’ve overthought it massively. Made too big a deal of it in my own mind. Hyped it up and probably because of that it’s been to my detriment. So I tried to very much get in a one-on-one context which each individual bowler and not try and think about anything other than ticking off one at a time with the guy at the other end, building a partnership as much as we could.”
Root was also delighted with the performances of Jonny Bairstow, who made a valuable 47 in a stand of 110 to help England towards parity, and Dan Lawrence, who made a confident 73. With Bairstow making his first appearance since 2019 and Lawrence on debut, they add welcome to depth to a squad missing Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope and Rory Burns.
"It’s a really good place to be,” he said. “It’s something with our bowling group: you’re starting to see a lot of strength and depth in a seam department for the last year and a half or so.
“It’s nice to now see that with the bat as well, both top order and middle order. That will drive the standards of the group up all the time, that competition for places is always probably the best motivator to keep getting better and keep wanting to improve their game.
“The more that can happen the better, and those two guys have certainly taken their chance in this game and have shown everyone they have the game for Test cricket."