As skipper, Root did lose his way on the final morning, allowing his team to be sucked into an emotional battle with India’s tail, who would not budge. The field was spread too soon, and the bowlers tried to break Indian fingers, not Indian stumps. A winning position slipped away, and soon England were in a losing battle to save the game.
Yet, Root — again — had done more than anyone to help England build that winning position. His unbeaten 180 (next top score: 57) had provided a slim first-innings lead.
It was his fifth century of the year, and England’s sixth. He has more runs in each of the Sri Lanka (two matches), India away (four) and India home (two) series than any other England batter has all year. He has 1,277 runs. The next best is Rory Burns, with 363. Root has registered none of the 39 ducks this year.
And so it was vaguely inevitable that after his poor morning, Root would be called into action instantly with the bat. He walked out at one for two, with both English openers out for — you guessed it — ducks for the first time ever in a home Test. For a session, he provided typically busy resistance, only to fall after tea. Into the final session of day five, he had been on the field for all but 15 overs of the match.
This was the day when, having asked him to do it all, as captain and batter, Root finally succumbed. It was hard to accept his responsibility for defeat when he has to do so much.
For Root, it is a cruel coincidence that as he has found the form of his life, the team that he spent the last two years building has simply fallen apart. England have suffered vital injuries and absence to key players, but have also seen players they have invested so much time in under-performing,
Dom Sibley is the only man to have played England’s last 22 Tests, back to the start of the Silverwood era in New Zealand in 2019. But he is now averaging under 29, and getting worse. He has had his moments and there is value to soaking up balls, but Sibley has not shown the capacity to kick on. He appears likely to join Zak Crawley — another granted a Test contract based on early promise — out of the side.
That is all very well, but where do England turn? Haseeb Hameed made an underwhelming Test return, but could be promoted to open, meaning England require their fifth Test No3 of the year. It is too soon for England to go back to Crawley. Could Ollie Pope, now back playing after injury, or Jonny Bairstow be a square peg in a round hole until the end of the series? There are calls for Dawid Malan, because he did well in Australia four years ago, but he was dropped for averaging 28 in Test cricket. James Vince? Moeen Ali?
If Mark Wood is fit, and among the many missteps yesterday morning was the flogging of a fragile fast bowler, then Sam Curran is the only vulnerable member of the attack. Moeen had a good return, and there is increasingly little wiggle room among the quicks with so many injured bowlers. Craig Overton should replace Curran, although Lancashire’s Saqib Mahmood is pushing.
It should be little consolation to England that in 2014, with Root in another run glut, they drew the First Test against India at Trent Bridge, then lost the Second at Lord’s, despite having a slim first-innings lead, then won the series 3-1.
This is a very different India. Sure, seven of the current side played in that series, but not only are those players improved and the additions better than their predecessors, there is a greater snarl and belief. It is a very long way back from here against a team that is rewriting the history books, tour by tour.