Root’s reverse scoop gamble backfires to spark tumble of England wickets

<span>Joe Root’s reverse scoop attempt backfired and India took control of the third Test.</span><span>Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters</span>
Joe Root’s reverse scoop attempt backfired and India took control of the third Test.Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

The rot started with Root. It happened just five overs into the day on the third morning at a sun soaked Niranjan Shah Cricket Stadium. The moment that made bleary-eyed England fans who had set their Saturday morning alarms with the promise of more high-octane Stokesian shenanigans groan into their muesli. In fact, it was probably still too early for sustenance. At 4.22am UK time, a little before 10am locally, Joe Root – the prince of modern English batting – hopped impishly in his crease and attempted a reverse scoop to Jasprit Bumrah.

You’ll likely know the shot, you probably giggled with glee as Root unfurled it against the skiddy pace of Naseem Shah or the sinew-straining bumpers of Neil Wagner. Sat in slack-jawed bemusement when he attempted it against Pat Cummins to the first ball of a day’s play in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston last summer or yelped with delight when he later successfully nailed it off Mitch Marsh and Scott Boland.

Related: Yashasvi Jaiswal and India make shoddy England pay after tourists’ collapse

The shot has been Root’s signature stroke since he relinquished the captaincy and rejoined the ranks with a tiggerish spring in his step a few years ago. For all his velveteen drives, gimlet-eyed sweeps and Andrex-soft glides behind point, this is the shot that Root has relished playing the most over the past few years.

Well, you guessed it, it got him out. The delivery from Bumrah was wide of off stump and in the slot for it, as much as a ball can be in the slot for a stroke of such angle-defying audacity. Root got into position early, pre-empting the scoop and playing it in his inimitable style – resembling a man bashing a dusty doormat against a garden wall – but failed to get the required elevation. Instead of soaring away over the slips the ball flashed to Yashasvi Jaiswal in the cordon and the youngster clung on to a sharp catch.

Root threw his head back in disgust and stomped from the field, the gamble hadn’t paid off this time. India capitalised on the totter and turned it into a full on tumble of English wickets. The visitors losing eight for 112 runs to surrender a strong overnight position and ultimately end the day 322 runs behind. Ben Stokes’s side were run ragged in the Rajkot heat and traipsed off the field at the close with eight Indian wickets still to take before they can begin their inevitable chase.

As England fell in a heap, Root’s shot selection soon became the subject of much tongue wagging. The Guardian’s OBO coverage resembled a late night/early morning radio phone in with punters taking to their keyboards in the gloaming and getting in touch to either denigrate Root’s “brain fade” or, strangely, to celebrate it.

The first rule of Bazball may well be that you don’t talk (or, for Brendon McCullum even utter the word in the first place) Bazball, much less reflect on the delicate alchemy of risk, reward and supposed fearlessness that underpins it. But perhaps the naysayers had a point this time? With India a star bowler down after Ravichandran Ashwin pulled out of the match due to a family emergency overnight, England had a chance to make “moving day” their own and bat up to and beyond India’s first innings score of 445. Root was clearly feeling in good fettle having driven Bumrah for four in the previous over and had a positively run-humming Ben Duckett for company down the other end. Bumrah, perhaps, had another couple of overs left in his spell and sensible cricketing logic might have suggested seeing him off, leaving the reverse-scoop at the bottom of the bag for the time being and making hay as the day progressed.

For all their bar-emptying exploits and giggle inducing acts of derring-do, one thing Stokes’s side could perhaps be accused of is a lack of ruthlessness. Root’s dismissal made the mind roll back to the Lord’s Test in last year’s Ashes series and a similar situation.

With England off to a flier with the bat and Nathan Lyon going down injured, Pat Cummins was out of ideas and resorted to a short ball plan that was heavily signposted. Instead of seeing the bigger picture, England got caught up in the moment, chased the short ball and perished, surrendering a 91-run first innings lead in the process and going on to lose a tight Test by 43 runs.

Needless to say England’s players and plenty of their supporters don’t see it like that. Asked about Root’s dismissal after stumps Duckett was unequivocal: “In my eyes it’s the same as playing a drive and nicking off to second slip.”

There’s a reason why Stokes’s Test side have cricket fans clamouring for the alarm clock in the wee small hours. They put on a show. There’s never a dull moment. They are worth waking up for. For good or ill, something bonkers might well happen before you’ve brushed your teeth or the bins have been collected. Even so, if this game goes the way it is headed and India take a 2-1 lead in the series, the moment it started to disintegrate will be all too clear to players with ingrained nous such as Root and Stokes. Whether they choose to regret or indeed learn from it or not.