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2021 in Review

Wisden’s Test innings of 2021, No.7 – Joe Root’s 218

by Cameron Ponsonby 4 minute read

Placed at No.7 in Wisden’s Test innings of the year is Joe Root’s 218 at Chennai which led to a famous England victory.

Joe Root 218 (377)

India v England

Chennai, India

First Test

February 5-9, 2021

The year was only five weeks old and yet in Chennai, Joe Root was already busy registering his third Test century of 2021. To use to an array of superlatives to describe his form during this period is both necessary, and yet, at the same time underwhelming. Root was batting in another realm, to a standard that had arguably never been seen by any English cricketer before.

“Root makes me feel rubbish”, said Ben Stokes to Channel 4 at the close of day two after Root had finished on 218, “that’s pretty much where he’s at, at the moment. I’m not sure we’ve had an England player play spin so well – with such ease and control.”

To perform well in Asia is one of the great litmus tests for any batter in world cricket and Root’s performance in Chennai confirmed his ability against spin and also that his two centuries against Sri Lanka were the result of a player who was making his run at greatness and not just a momentary period of brilliance.

As Root left the field on day two, records had tumbled by the dozen. It was the highest score ever registered by a player in their 100th Test match, it was the first double century by an opposition player in India since 2010, it was the best score by an England player in India ever and it was the fifth double-century of his career, leaving Root behind only Wally Hammond in the number of double-centuries for his country.

It wasn’t, however, just the quantity of Root’s runs that impressed but the quality of how they were scored with a clarity apparent in both his planning and his execution. Halfway through his innings at the close of the first day’s play and with 128 runs to his name, Root hadn’t scored a single run straight down the ground against India’s seamers, instead favouring square of the wicket shots, most notably his by now famous sweep shot.

“Root’s sweep shot is a modern classic,” wrote CricViz’s Ben Jones at the close of day one. “325 runs per dismissal for Root’s sweep shot since the start of the 2018 Sri Lanka tour, making it the most effective shot in Test cricket. Part of the reason that his record is that good, is that he doesn’t play it compulsively.

“The first 28 balls of spin that Root faced were from Ashwin and Nadeem, the frontline spinners in India’s attack, and Root didn’t play a single sweep shot.

“Soon, the stroke began to dominate proceedings. The laps, the hard-sweeps, the reverse, they all came out, 17 in total across a day where England moved into a commanding position. Only three innings have seen Root sweep more regularly.”

Root’s acceleration across the day also spoke of a player in complete control of his game and of the occasion. Starting with relative conservatism, Root scored just 17 runs off his first 60 balls, he soon changed gears as he scored 111 runs from his next 137 deliveries. On day two, with the wicket showing its first signs of deterioration, he still ticked at a decent rate, scoring 90 runs off 180 balls before finally being dismissed lbw by Shahbaz Nadeem.

England would end up winning the match by 227 runs as they bowled out India for 192 on the final day for a famous victory in a match they had gone in to as heavy underdogs. Not only that, but the victory saw Root go level with Michael Vaughan for the record number of Test wins as an England captain to rubber stamp an altogether historic performance by both Root and England.

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