Eng vs IND – 5th Test – 2022


“It’s like being a kid again. It’s great. It’s like how it felt when I first started playing.” With the first answer of his press conference, Joe Root summed up exactly what he and the rest of this England side are experiencing at the moment.

An hour before sitting down in front of the microphones and cameras, Root had walked off on 142 not out, Jonny Bairstow by his side with 114 of his own having chased down 378 like it was nothing. Certainly not the record chase by an England Test team that it is now.

The final 119 runs required were polished off with ease inside 19.5 overs, as Root and Bairstow registered career centuries No. 28 and 12, with five and six already in 2022, respectively. There was no jeopardy, no anxiety beyond the very start where perhaps standard English doom-mongering could not be helped. But for those in the dressing room, there was nothing but calm. As they have been for the three previous chases before this one.

“I think once you’ve done it once, you know you can do it and you prove to yourself you can,” Root said on the fact England have chased down four 250-plus targets in the last month. “It does make it that little bit easier. It makes it a little bit more believable.

“I imagine there will be sides around the world looking at the way that we’ve been playing and feeling a little bit intimidated by what we’re capable of doing. You don’t want to be too into what other teams are doing and how they’re approaching things. But again, that can only breed more confidence within you and you think sides could be very wary of what you’re capable of.”

The difference here was that the scale of the chase meant a little more forethought. Even after Zak Crawley and Alex Lees blitzed the fastest opening stand by a pair of Englishmen, a collapse from 107 for no loss to 109 for 3 just after tea threatened to derail the charge. But Root and Bairstow steadied the ship and ticked over without taking unnecessary risks. It was only when Root had passed his century and victory was more or less assured that he began to have some fun, charging Shardul Thakur for four down the ground then reverse-ramping him for six.

Of the outrageous cricket English fans are starting to get used to, perhaps the Root ramps are the one thing many are still struggling to get theirs heads around. The idea that a player deemed not imaginative enough to play a role in England’s hell-for-leather T20 side – his last appearance came in May 2019 – and perhaps even unnecessary for the 50-over format could add such an expansive string to his bow.

He admits to be still battling with two sides. One of how he has done things before Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes decided to shake things up, which got him 1708 runs and six centuries in 2021, and two more before the start of the summer. And the other of batting without a care in the world.

“The Yorkshireman inside me is still saying ‘dig in, play straight and get behind it’,” he said with a smile. “Then there’s the captain on the other shoulder saying ‘be a rockstar’. So you’re fighting between the two of them, sometimes.”

It is clear, though, he welcomes this new approach, not least because it is skewering old whims and unwritten rules. Players are being encouraged to play for enjoyment without losing sight of the bigger goal of victory. And the key has been to rid themselves of the emotional baggage of form and the weight of tradition that have, ultimately, felt like a burden.

“It’s scripted out how you need to play in Test cricket. Sometimes being unpredictable is very difficult to bowl at. Sometimes the gaps look bigger, and you know where the ball is going to be because of generally how sides bowl for long periods of time.

“For me it’s about making good decisions for long periods of time. There have been occasions this summer I might have played some unusual shots, if you look at the history of Test cricket. But they’ve felt like pretty low-risk options in the moment. I guess it’s just trying to manage the game more.”

As incredible as Bairstow has been, Root may be the best example of the nourishing qualities of the current environment. Since a boy he was ordained to be an England cricketer, and through his talent bestowed the FEC (Future England Captain) tag. As well as he has carried both, it meant his career has largely been dictated by those who came before him.

Now, you can say with some certainty that for the first time in his England career, certainly for the first time in five years having given up the captaincy in March, he is playing the most expressive, enjoyable cricket. It just happens to be at the very highest level.

“It’s how it should be,” he reiterated. “And hopefully the way that we’re playing at the minute can inspire a lot of youngsters to take up the game and enjoy it and get excited about test cricket and love it as we do.”

As for how to describe the current ethos, he wasn’t bothered about the buzz phrases that have emerged over the past few weeks. “You can call it whatever you like but it’s great fun to play and great fun to be a part of.”

Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo


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