England captain Joe Root missed out on yet another Test century. After his ton against the West Indies in August last year, Root has now scored 11 fifties without converting them it into three figures.
But Root averages 52 in Tests and is the fastest Englishman to 6,000 Test runs, you say? He is still scoring runs so what’s the issue here?
Root scored a sublime 80 against India on the first day of the Birmingham Test and missed three figures after misjudging a a run for two and was beaten by Virat Kohli’s throw.
He scored successive centuries in the ODIs against India but the three-figure mark eluded him in Tests yet again.
The fact is Root is scoring runs. But it is big runs that separate the good from the great. He finds himself bracketed with Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Steven Smith as the finest batsmen of this generation. But the longer Root fails to reach a ton, the further the other three inch away.
The England skipper is constantly battling perceptions. He is not considered a good T20 player. Recently, it was thought he might lose his ODI spot as well but roared back into form. But the perceptions simply don’t go away. They buzz around, posing irritating questions about your abilities.
His century drought has another repercussion. It puts the onus on other players to score big. Because fifties don’t win you Test series, big hundreds do. Which is why players like Kohli and Smith are regarded highly because they latch on and don’t let go until they have had their fill.
Root will score a century at some point. But he will think about the tons he missed. Because it is not a coincidence that his run of fifties has coincided with England winning just two out of their last 10 Tests.
Root reached the landmark – in England’s 1,000th Test – when he reached 43 after lunch on the first day.
It had taken Root five years and 231 days to reach the milestone, 108 days quicker than his team-mate Alastair Cook.
England took lunch at 83-1, with Cook the only casualty for 13 to a superb turning delivery from Ravi Ashwin that dislodged his off-stump bail.
But India struck further post-lunch blows with Keaton Jennings’ resistance ending on 42, the opener unluckily seeing a ball from Mohammed Shami rolling back on to his stump.
Dawid Malan had survived a leg before review before a similar appeal from Shami was upheld with him on eight and England were 112-3.
Who are the Indian bowlers who have the upperhand on their English opponent? Or vice-a-versa which English batsmen are happy to see a certain Indian bowler with the ball in hand?
The results may surprise you. Here are three of the crucial match-ups to decide who emerges on top.
Alastair Cook v Ishant Sharma
This is a battle that stretches back a decade.
In total the England opener and Indian quick have contested five series and the good news for the visitors is Sharma dominates – dismissing Cook on eight occasions for just 154 runs – at an average of 19.25 per dismissal.
Cook has also struggled to score off the tall paceman compiling those 154 runs off 465 balls (including 395 dot balls) at a sedate strike rate of 33.12.
In terms of boundaries he has hit just 23 off Sharma at a glacial rate again of one every 20.21 balls.
Of the eight dismissals two have been LBW and the other six caught – twice by MS Dhoni behind the stumps, and one each at first slip, second slip, gully and deep point.
Sharma has even done the double on Cook once, during the second Test in Nottingham in 2011, sending him back to the pavilion LBW for 2 in the first innings and caught at Yuraj Singh at gully for just 5 in the second.
Cook will be hoping to improve his record against Sharma in this home series while the Indian pacer will want to continue his dominance.
Joe Root v Ravichandran Ashwin
Surprisingly this one goes to the Englishman.
India’s No1 spinner has only dismissed the England captain twice while conceding 212 runs at a fairly rapid rate of 60.92 and average of 106.
Boundaries have also come regularly with Root hitting Ashwin for 21 fours and a lone six.
It reached the third series between the pair before the Indian off-spinner even dismissed Root. In the first two series’ he conceded 63 runs of 116 balls.
Root had a field day against Ashwin last time they met in England taking him for 31 runs off just 41 balls at a scorching strike rate of 75.6.
The two dismissals both came in India two years ago and both were caught – the first at long off by Umesh Yadav in Visakhapatnam and the second a sharp chance at slip to Virat Kohli in Mumbai.
Jonny Bairstow v Umesh Yadav
This is an interesting tussle between the middle order English keeper and the Indian opener.
To date they have met in just one series – two years ago in India – with honours fairly even.
The English keeper was able to pick him off for 29 runs, including two boundaries, at a reasonable strike rate of 44.62, while Yadav dismissed him once.
That wicket was in the first innings of the second Test in Visakhapatnam after Bairstow had compiled a solid 53 off 152.
With England on 190 for 5 and India just about to take the new ball, Yadav struck with a full straight ball that Bairstow tried to work to the leg side.
Beaten by the pace, a touch he hit his boot with the bat, allowing the ball to strike his pad and cannon into the stumps.
This match-up will play out a lot over the next few months with England relying on Bairstow for important runs down the order and Yadav shouldering much of the Indian quick bowling with the injury to Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah.