Joe Root proves his England class in Headingley Test
We have always known that Joe Root could bat with class and style. We have always known he possessed great talent.
But what his 104 at Headingley on Saturday showed us was what a very fine player he already is.
This was no flat pitch, no batting paradise, no stroll to the crease with England already well set.
Root began his innings with his side 67-3, his captain Cook gone, his partner at the other end also on 0. The ball was swinging, moving about enough to have dismissed his far more experienced team-mates higher up the order, and the pressure was on.
In the space of a few deliveries from Tim Southee, we had the perfect illustration of why this 22-year-old is garnering such praise and excitement.
Southee, a canny operator fresh off a 10-wicket haul at Lord's, offered up the perfect ball just outside off stump - pitched up, tempting, designed to draw the eager drive and then nip away at the last to take the edge.
Joe Root's first-class scores this season
- 49 & 182 - Yorkshire v Durham, Championship, Headingley
- 236 - Yorkshire v Derbyshire, Championship, Headingley
- 179 - England Lions v New Zealand, tour match, Leicester
- 40 & 71 - England v New Zealand, 1st Test, Lord's
- 104 - England v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Headingley
A very similar delivery had done for Nick Compton. A very similar delivery would have lured in many more. But Root watched it, waited, and left it alone with complete calm.
A few moments later, another fullish one was served up. This time he drove it away from four in the absolute perfect fashion when you are facing a swing bowler getting movement through the air - waiting for the ball until it is under your nose, transferring your weight smoothly onto the front foot, limiting your follow-through so that you are never reaching for the ball nor chasing its path.
It was the shot of the day for me, the encapsulation of Root's class.
Throughout his long innings - he batted for 167 balls, and had taken England 203 runs further on by the time of his weary dismissal to the first delivery with the second new ball - he was often caught smiling, a reflection not only of the fact that he was batting for much of it with his friend Jonny Bairstow but that he was also genuinely enjoying himself.
This is only his sixth Test. You could understand if he had begun with clenched teeth or with bat handle gripped tightly.
Instead he clearly relished every moment.
Playing on your home pitch, in front of your own expectant support, can sometimes work against players. They feel so much is anticipated that it becomes a pressure rather than a bolster.
Not Root. He looked like a young man for whom childhood dreams were coming true.
He would have grown up thinking wishfully of one day scoring a Test century for England at Headingley, perhaps imagining himself to be Michael Vaughan.
He had to work hard for it. But he was able to gradually exert control over the New Zealand attack, exactly as he had been the dominant partner in taking England to victory in the one-dayer in Napier this winter.
“Bairstow is probably aware that, with the imminent return of Kevin Pietersen, this could be his last Test for some time”
Root is a modern Test cricketer, one of the new breed who was brought up in Twenty20 cricket rather than forced to adapt to it.
That is reflected in his strokeplay, in the weapons he has at his disposal and how comfortable he is in using them.
The little reverse sweep he pulled out against Kane Williamson just after tea showed a little cheekiness, the late dab for four more shortly afterwards the same.
There was no slogging, however, and not a chance until he was eventually caught behind by Brendon McCullum off Trent Boult.
The reception he was given by a celebrating Leeds crowd was the high point in a really good day for Yorkshire cricket after the miserable washout which ruined the first day of this match.
This looks to be a terrific pitch, with enough carry and nip to interest the bowlers but with runs there for the batsmen if they work hard and concentrate.
In the innings of Bairstow - at 23 just a year older than Root - there was further reason for Yorkshiremen to leave the ground with broad smiles on their faces.
Bairstow is probably aware that, with the imminent return of Kevin Pietersen, this could be his last Test for some time.
Because of that he wants to ensure that he is at the front of the queue when the next opportunity comes.
There was something about Pietersen about some of his flourishes from outside off-stump through the leg-side field en route to his 64, and while that same technique also makes him something of an lbw candidate, he will develop and learn, just as he did after struggling with the short ball last summer.
Jonathan Agnew was talking to chief sports writer Tom Fordyce.
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