‘Shoes off if you love Joe Root’ as Headingley salutes England captain Joe Root
“SHOES off if you love Joe Root” sang the Western Terrace, hoisting all manner of footwear high into the air.
On a day such as this, cool for late August, one did not want those shoes off for too long perhaps, but this Yorkshireman will keep churning out the runs, inviting ever more innovative ways to celebrate his genius.
On the Headingley ground he knows so well, where he scored his first Test hundred in 2013, Root made his second at Leeds and his 23rd in total, steering England to 423-8 at stumps, a lead of 345, after India had been dismissed for 78 on the opening day after choosing to bat.
In tandem with Dawid Malan, with whom he shared 139 for the third wicket, and who marked his return to Test cricket after a three-year exile with a fluent 70, Root further sped away a game that had long seemed gone from India in any case with a ruthlessness that put one in mind of a baddie in a movie pumping a round of bullets into a palpably dead body – just to be ultra cut-throat and certain.
Even at a venue where miracles occur so regularly as to be almost a banality, one would require the imaginary powers of a Hans Christian Andersen to see a way back for Virat Kohli and his men.
The India captain, who had promised prior to the game that his team would never take a backward step, and who reportedly told them to “give England hell” during the Lord’s Test, was himself given a glimpse of those infernal quarters by a rival who is presently putting him in the shade in the private war between the world’s best batsmen.
Whereas Kohli seemingly cannot buy a score for love nor money, Root apparently cannot fail for all the tea in China, his red-hot streak showing no sign of ending.
His scores in this series are 64, 109, 180 not out, 33 and now 121; it was his sixth Test century of the calendar year, equalling the English record by Michael Vaughan and Denis Compton, with power to add and seemingly no power known to man that can stop him.
On a day that began with the sad news of Ted Dexter’s passing, Root speaking with perfectly-pitched eloquence before play about one of his predecessors as England captain, he personally paid the most fitting tribute with an innings that Dexter himself would have loved.
There was an air of inevitability about Root’s progress from the start, a busyness that kept the scoreboard ticking with well-placed singles and beautifully punched shots off the back foot in particular, with blade meeting ball at the top of the bounce.
A case in point was the stroke which took Root to his half-century in the overcast conditions, Mohammed Shami timed through point in the general direction of the shoeless worshippers, who had to put them back on again, or else put them down, in order to properly applaud.
It was arguably his best shot of the day and as dexterous and debonair as Dexter at his finest, although not even Lord Ted was on quite the same level as King Joe, a batsman at his absolute peak looking down on such lesser summits as Everest and Kilimanjaro.
Root came to the crease 20 minutes before lunch once Haseeb Hameed’s innings had come to an end, the opener, who resumed on 60, adding eight more runs before Ravindra Jadeja turned a jaffa past his outside edge.
Earlier, Rory Burns, 52 overnight, added nine to his tally before Shami nipped one through the gate to clip the top of off. The opening stand was worth 135 and ate up 50 overs – substance and solidity unknown in recent times.
England’s top-four, in fact, all passed fifty for the first time since 2013, Malan impressing on his second coming as a Test cricketer at his home ground.
The left-hander got off the mark with a sumptuous cover-driven boundary and looked typically assured through that area, imbuing the proceedings with his customary class.
Malan’s previous two first-class innings at Headingley were a career-best 219 and 199. He looked all-set for another three-figure score but fell to the final ball of the afternoon session, strangled down the leg-side by Mohammed Siraj, who seemed to be the only Indian convinced of the tickle before Kohli was finally persuaded to review.
Jonny Bairstow struck a jaunty 29 and then edged to slip; Jos Buttler flicked to mid-wicket; Root was bowled by a good one from Jasprit Bumrah that nipped back in; Moeen Ali lofted to a deepish mid-on, and Sam Curran hooked to deep square-leg.
Craig Overton played well for an unbeaten 24, the Root-inspired hosts ending the day in such a commanding state that it was enough to make a grown man take off his shoes.