Cardiff: In a brilliant display of counterattacking batsmanship, young Yorkshireman Joe Root led the way for England on the opening day of the 2015 Investec Ashes at the SWALEC stadium in Cardiff, notching his 7th Test century, snatching the early advantage from the visiting Australians.
After the five-nil thrashing down under nearly 18 months ago, England now back at home would have hoped for a better start to the Ashes and it almost did not happen. Electing to bat on a flat wicket with no alarming pace or threatening bounce, the ghosts from Australia were starting to rear their heads with England three down for 43 in the 15th over. It should have been four two balls later but Brad Haddin made a mess of a straightforward chance of Joe Root and with that, Australia lost their grip and Root, in the company of Gary Ballance, cashed in.
Joe Root. Pic/ Getty Images
Some would have advised cautious approach from the English vice-captain, after Skipper Alastair Cook and the most experienced batsman of the side Ian Bell departed within 7 deliveries of each other, but Root chose to take the attack to the Aussies. His first scoring shot was a flowing straight drive off the dangerous Mitchell Starc, bisecting the gap between the non-striker and mid-off. Additional seven runs were stroked in the next few deliveries, and Root was off.
Without the hustle off the playing surface that they are used to back home, the Australian bowlers went searching for wickets and in the process losing their discipline. Every time there was a marginal error in length or line, Root punished unforgivingly on both sides of the wicket, plundering boundaries – seventeen in all - at will. His first 40 runs came at better than run a ball, and his strike rate never dipped below 80 (runs per 100 balls) throughout his remarkable knock of 134 runs.
Mitchell Johnson had terrorized the English batsmen with stares and snarls, and with a handlebar moustache and vicious short deliveries year and half ago. Root neutralized any early threat Johnson may have posed in this series by being particularly severe on him, plundering 28 runs off the 24 balls he faced from the left-arm slinger. He also reserved attention for the other left-armer Starc, scoring 44 off 49 deliveries faced. In all, Root pocketed 72 off his 136 runs against the two bowlers that were considered the main threats. In doing so, he provided the breathing space for Ballance initially, and later to Ben Stokes, to get in to their games and score their own half centuries.
After the reprieve on the second ball of his innings, Root faced another moment of trepidation when on 62, Australia reviewed an LBW appeal. He was beaten by a fuller delivery from Nathan Lyon but HawkEye indicated the ball to have pitched outside leg stump, and he continued on his merry ways. Another 39 runs later (off just 41 balls) that included 7 sweetly timed strokes to the rope, the last of which was an effortless caress to cover point boundary, Root removed his helmet to soak up the admiration and adulation from the sell-out crowd on reaching the milestone.
The promised new era of aggressive and exciting English cricket, under a new coach, almost did not dawn until the new faces, led by Root, made it possible. A superlative century, constructed with panache, played with freedom rare for an English cricketer, has left England in the driver’s seat on day one of this (possible) 25-day slog.