In the end, the rain finished off the job Joe Root had started. The First Test between England and India didn’t get the finale it deserved, with the final day’s play being washed out by the regular downpours blighting Trent Bridge, leaving India 157 runs short of the victory they had arguably earned on the balance of play.
Had it not been for Root, though, the tourists might well have got the job done long before the weather intervened. The England skipper’s fantastic 109 on Saturday had ensured that India had a not-inconsiderable target of 209 to chase, and yet again Root’s value to this Test side was underlined.
Their last three victories, two of them in Sri Lanka and the other in India, have all come thanks in large part to a massive knock from Root. Scores of 228 and 186 in Galle led England to a series sweep, while his 218 in the first innings of the First Test in Chennai was a higher score than any of his side’s seven entire innings which followed in an ultimately forgettable series in India in February and March.
This latest innings was built on attacking intent, with the skipper coming to the crease at a time when Rory Burns and Zak Crawley had both gone early and Dom Sibley was struggling to keep the momentum up. Root quickly went about putting the India bowlers on the back foot as he confidently racked up his first century on home soil since scoring 125 in Alastair Cook’s final Test appearance against India in 2018.
It is not lost on Root just how much he needs to see contributions from elsewhere in the batting line-up, telling Sky Sports after the final day was officially curtailed: “We obviously want to be scoring more runs at the top of the order, we want to be taking all the chances that we create and making our lives a little bit easier but Test cricket challenges you some times.”
Clearly, England need to find a balance. With The Hundred providing yet another distraction away from the longer form of the game, Root appears to be one of very few players left able to bed in for a significant Test innings. Burns has only one century to his name in the last two years, Sibley has gone 24 innings without a ton and has 12 single-figure scores and just four fifties in that time, and Crawley is averaging 11 in his seven matches since tallying a series-clinching 267 against Pakistan last summer.
Without Ben Stokes, Root and head coach Chris Silverwood have turned back to Jonny Bairstow, who doesn’t have a Test fifty in two years, while Dan Lawrence tallied a fourth duck in six Tests at Trent Bridge amid continuing concerns about his readiness for the Test arena.
So right now, Root appears to be the only answer with the bat. Questions over his captaincy abound, and with four Tests remaining against India and an Ashes tour due to take place this winter, the magnitude of the next five months are clear. But the Yorkshireman remains England’s best Test batter by some distance, and arguably their only hope when it comes to racking up a score which is going to ask any sort of questions for their opposition.
On Thursday, the Second Test gets underway at Lord’s with a hope that rain won’t compromise the result as it has in Nottingham. However, if that isn’t going to mean a 1-0 lead in the series for India, Root is going to need somebody else to contribute with the bat.