Joe Root’s second one-day international century helped England stave off a Royal London Series whitewash their captain Alastair Cook could ill afford.
Cook, beset by critics convinced he is not the right man to lead England to next year’s World Cup, was indebted to Root in a total of 294-7 which proved 41 runs too many for India at Headingley and salvaged a 3-1 rather than 4-0 series defeat.
Root became the only Yorkshireman to hit an ODI hundred on his home ground, in his first match there in this format for his country.
His career-best 113 was a triumph of composure, and vindication of the methods for which Cook’s England have been vilified in some quarters – accumulation, complemented by late acceleration to push his strike rate above 100, and serve the situation ideally.
India then lost two early wickets to James Anderson – and although Ravindra Jadeja (87) and Ambati Rayudu (53) narrowed the margins as the world champions targeted James Tredwell and Ben Stokes, they never appeared to be on course for a fourth successive win.
Opener Ajinkya Rahane fell in the tamest fashion, pushing an innocuous delivery straight and with no power to point, and then Anderson took Virat Kohli’s wicket for the fifth time this summer – neatly caught at slip by Cook.
Shikhar Dhawan was bowled aiming a sweep at Moeen Ali; Suresh Raina was caught-behind cutting at the off-spinner, and – having been dropped at third-man by Chris Woakes off the luckless Steve Finn on just six, Rayudu eventually mistimed an attempted big hit at Stokes (3-47) to Cook at mid on.
India’s hopes hinged on Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s ability to inspire a fightback.
But when Finn’s fortunes changed, the India captain just about reaching a slow long hop which might otherwise have been called a wide and cutting it off the bottom of the bat to point, even Jadeja could not keep the tourists in it.
The left-handed number seven nonetheless saved his best for last and had hit two sixes and nine fours when he was last out, playing on to Finn in the penultimate over.
Root had earlier played with characteristic bustle but also patience, a commodity very few of England’s detractors have counselled in recent times.
He hit 10 fours and three sixes from 108 balls, his second maximum a slog-sweep off Jadeja to go to three figures.
His century stand, England’s first of their hugely disappointing series, with Jos Buttler for the fifth wicket was the key to the hosts’ innings after they had been put in just as morning cloud cover began to disperse. On a good pitch, but one which offered plenty of help too to the slow bowlers, England had to contend with 26 overs of spin – an opposition element which has previously stopped them in their tracks for the past two weeks.
It was seam, though, which soon eliminated Alex Hales and then Moeen as their attempts to dominate from the outset came to little.
Opener Hales mistimed a pull high for a simple catch to midwicket off Umesh Yadav, and Moeen – pushed up the order to number three in place of Gary Ballance – carved Bhuvneshwar Kumar straight to third man. Cook had begun with off-side fours off the back foot from only the third and fifth deliveries he faced in Kumar’s first over.
He flirted with the slips too, though, twice in his first 23 runs edging aerially through them for four – while Root soon appeared to be relishing the occasion, hitting five boundaries in his first 22 runs.
Cook’s luck ran out four short of his 50 when, after the introduction of spin at both ends, his attempted sweep at Raina looped apologetically into Dhoni’s gloves.
Eoin Morgan never got started against the turning ball and was stumped as he lurched towards Ravi Ashwin – and in 18 ‘middle overs’ of unbroken spin, England could muster only 66 for two. Root kept his cool, though, and had power to add alongside Buttler.
They plundered 55 in the batting powerplay, including five fours and three sixes – and by the time Buttler ran himself out for 49, England had the basis for a total approaching 300.
Root eventually paddled a catch to short fine-leg off Mohammed Shami, but his skill and the impetus provided by Buttler and Stokes’ late hitting had given Cook the breathing space he so badly needed.
Royal London Series Fifth One Day International, Headingley Carnegie: England 294-7 (JE Root 113); India 253 (RA Jadeja 87, AT Rayudu 53.