While Joe Root was quite obviously the headline act on the third day at Lord’s, perhaps the most noteworthy downpage stories were those authored by Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali, although Root, who recorded a 22nd century of his own, contributed in a crucial way to their renaissance as Test cricketers as well. Between them they would have made it unequivocally England’s day had not Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Siraj created a late-breaking story for the Indian edition.
The pair picked up three wickets post-tea that ensured any England lead would be kept to a minimum on a pitch getting progressively slower and lower, and Root, who was forced to get inventive towards the end of six and a half hours of highly competitive cricket, will be more aware than most that batting last on this surface could cause its own problems.
Root comes across as a modest man and would probably rather talk up his role in the improvement of two of England’s middle order batsmen than his own innings. It was not so much a walk-on part as a walk-down-the-wicket one – first reminding Bairstow to maintain his concentration when he went scoreless for 19 balls on 37 and then urging Ali to do likewise later in the afternoon when he was wafting against the second new ball and had only managed a single from 20 balls.
That advice helped Bairstow to record his first fifty in 21 attempts and Moeen to display some of the kinds of shot that viewers of the Hundred have treasured of late. After his interventions, Bairstow added 20 more runs, and Moeen 26, runs that could be utterly crucial in the tightest of contests.
England began the day 235 runs adrift of India’s first-innings total and with Bairstow in dire need of an innings to silence those adamant that he has had more than his fair share of opportunities in the five-day game.
Admittedly the Yorkshireman was helped by an unresponsive pitch which neutered the Indian attack – apart from the always combative Siraj, and, later, Ishant, whose absence from the attack for an hour and 20 minutes surprised some onlookers – but there were shots to admire as he started his scoring on the day with a couple of straight fours.
In fact, he dominated the early skirmishes, outscoring Root as the pair added 34 in the first 35 minutes, although by then the England captain had gone to his third score of more than 50 in the series with a glorious drive through point that teased Ravi Jadeja and left him entangled in the boundary sponge.
The half-century had taken him 82 balls and he would go on to reach his hundred – a fifth this year (two of which have been doubles) – early in the afternoon session. His sixth score of between 150 and 200 arrived almost inevitably after tea with his 1,000th four in Test cricket. When he steered England into the lead with one of the innumerable clips off his legs for another, it brought probably the biggest cheer of the day.
But first there was Bairstow’s half-century, completed with a single into the offside, from 90 balls and containing six fours. He had generally eschewed the opportunity to pull and hook as two men were posted back for the catch, but he arguably had Root to thank for willing him to his landmark: there are batsmen who can absorb 20 balls without scoring and Bairstow isn’t one of them, and his captain’s recognition of his unease from 22 yards away seemed pivotal.
Ultimately, Bairstow’s patience ran out early in the afternoon session and a pull that was somehow gloved into first slip’s hands would have been less admired from the other end. But a stand worth 121 had gone a long way to calming England anxieties.
Jos Buttler managed to hang around against the new ball, more by luck than judgement, and the 53 he scratched together in partnership with Root should not be ignored, although he left ajar a gate of Bairstowian proportions to allow Ishant to bowl him.
Moeen, impressive with his flight in conditions that did not suit him, had encouraged with the ball but thrown into a batting role, he fished agonisingly outside off stump several times before Root intervened again. From a score of one from 20 deliveries, Moeen suddenly rediscovered his mojo, hitting 19 off his next nine, four of them boundaries – the third, coaxed down the slope to the Tavern Stand off Siraj, bringing up the 300.
Although he was more restrained after tea, it was partly because Root dominated the strike, but his judgment outside off stump was much improved, even impeccable, and he eschewed Bumrah’s attempts from round the wicket to make him pull. It took a really good delivery from Ishant to uproot him, Kohli just able to scoop up a ball that threatened not to carry to him at second slip.
Sam Curran went to the next delivery, a carbon copy apart from the steeper bounce, and Rohit took a more comfortable chance at third slip. That was the last ball of the over and with figures of three for 66 from 23 overs at that point, Ishant was forced to wait until his 24th for his hat-trick attempt but Root, as he had after Haseeb’s first-ball dismissal on the second day, saw it off with the minimum of fuss.
England were still 21 behind with only three wickets in hand and although Ollie Robinson hit one handsome cut for four he was rather worked over by a rejuvenated Siraj, who emitted four lbw appeals against him in eight balls before Michael Gough confirmed one. An even more marginal leg-before decision also saved Root later and denied the bowler a deserved second five-wicket haul in Test cricket
Root showed enough trust in Mark Wood to allow him to face Jadeja, who had bowled plenty of overs without really ever looking a danger, and Shami, but drew the line at the effervescent Siraj. The two combined to get England into the ascendancy but Root sold the paceman down the river when he started out for a second, spotted too late that it was Jadeja shaping to throw and recovered his ground as Wood cantered past him and on into the pavilion.
Anderson survived a vicious and slightly farcical 10-ball over from Bumrah, which was extended first when he crashed one into the tailender]s helmet and then by his inability not to overstep the crease in his delivery stride. It exposed England’s No 11 to probably one of the more uncomfortable spells he has endured with bat in hand but the writing was on the wall as far as Root was concerned and no amount of soothing words from his captain was going to convince Anderson this was a pleasant way to spend an evening.
So at the start of the next over, from Siraj, Root, for all the handsome drives and clips to the square leg boundary, switched into Hundred mode. First, he engineered an extraordinary reverse flip over the slips for four – eat your heart out Rishabh Pant – then slog-swept remarkably to mid-wicket for another.
A single meant Anderson had to see off the over and another, from the last over of the day, exposed Anderson one more time to Shami, this time fatally. In keeping with an extraordinary day, the bowler find his way through his defences with the final one.
Root was left stranded on 180 after an innings as notable for its stamina as well as its strokeplay. But his sound counsel played more than its part in establishing a 27-run advantage. He has enough responsibilities as captain and senior batsmen, but don’t be surprised if his team-mates come up with another role: “batting whisperer”.