Joe Root glowed with pride at England’s skill and resilience as they edged a thrilling win over India in their landmark 1,000th Test.
Root, the orchestrator of an outstanding collective which prevailed by 31 runs on the fourth morning at Edgbaston, rightly proclaimed a wonderfully absorbing contest as a “fabulous advert” for Test cricket.
It was an important staging post too for his captaincy, and crucial for his development in the role.
He is still just a year into his tenure, but after such a chastening Ashes winter it said plenty that England held their nerve to go 1-0 up on the fourth morning of this series opener.
After Ben Stokes (four for 40) had turned the outcome with a spell of three for 15 – including the prized wicket of Virat Kohli – Root had praise for his premier all-rounder, 20-year-old aspirant Sam Curran after his man-of-the-match performance and old-stagers James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
Asked if it all added up to the best match he has played in, the Yorkshireman said: “It’s up there.
“It is a fabulous advert for the game of cricket, isn’t it?
“Anyone that says it’s dead can just come and watch this on repeat. What a game!
“I’m still trying soak it all in, but it was a fabulous team performance.”
India needed 84 runs from their last five wickets, with Kohli unbeaten on 43, when they resumed on Saturday morning.
Root said: “I spoke to the boys at the start, and said ‘Just go out there with that belief, desire that you have done the previous two days in the field’ – and they didn’t disappoint.
“I couldn’t be prouder of that.
“That’s all you can ask as a captain … the guys to do as you ask, and under pressure to stay as calm as we did.
“Whenever you play in close games like this, you desperately want to be on the right side of it for so many reasons – but one thing that really stands out for me is that inner drive and determination from this group of players.”
Kohli appeared to be taking the game away, but Stokes had him lbw for 51 in his first over, added a second wicket three balls later and finished the match when Hardik Pandya was caught-behind to leave India 162 all out.
“Stokesy’s got that knack, hasn’t he?” Root said.
“He wants to be involved in the big moments of the game, and he did just that today.”
On Monday morning, Stokes must report to Bristol Crown Court after pleading not guilty to affray.
But Root confirmed no one could have guessed there was anything but cricket on his mind here.
“Ben seems himself,” he said.
“He’s gone about things exactly how he was in every other game – and I don’t see that ever changing.
“When he turns up to practise or as soon as he puts on an England shirt he’s so dedicated to this group of players, to this team – and whatever happens, he’s going to be a big part of this dressing room.”
Stokes told Sky Sports that England’s performance had perhaps “closed a few mouths” following recent criticism.
His captain compared Curran’s youthful “steeliness” to Stokes’.
Curran’s father Kevin was an international all-rounder who collapsed and died while out jogging five years before sons Tom and now Sam began their England careers.
His youngest son said: “I was still young when it did happen, but I’ve got a very strong family – both my brothers, we’re all very close, and my mum’s very supportive of all our cricket
“It has been pretty tough.
“(But) I think it made us stronger as a family and me stronger as a person.
“I think I’ve learned as I’ve grown up, with two very competitive brothers in the back-garden cricket … ‘Don’t give them anything!’, and I try to take that on to the pitch.”
Kohli, meanwhile, must regroup in time for next week’s second Test at Lord’s – despite his personal heroics here.
He said: “There were a couple of times when we made comebacks and I felt that we showed character there – but a team like England will not let you do that every day of a Test match, and we realised that on the final day.
“We could have applied ourselves better, but I’m still proud of the fight we showed.”
Kohli has looked just that at times over the past two days, and was still unbeaten on 43 at stumps on day three as he again proved England’s stumbling block. Anderson would have had him for just 21 in his first-innings 149, though, if Dawid Malan had held a regulation slip catch – and England’s all-time leading wicket-taker is keeping the faith he can get his man before India make the 84 runs they need to win after reaching 110-5.
Asked if it will be a case of dismissing Kohli on the fourth morning, or going 1-0 down in the series, Anderson said: “More than likely, yes.
“We’ve just got to give it everything we’ve got in the morning for the first 15-20 overs – leave absolutely nothing out there.
“It’s a really exciting place to be, because you know we could do something special tomorrow by winning this – such a close Test match. So we’ll go to bed dreaming about getting Kohli out first thing.”
Anderson has found Kohli's outside edge four times. Three didn't carry, one was dropped. Yet to be convinced Kohli has ironed out the kinks from 2014.— Lawrence Booth (@the_topspin) August 2, 2018
Anderson insists it is reality, not fantasy, that he can stop Kohli.
“I’ve been encouraged the way I’ve bowled at him in this game so far, found the edge a few times in the first innings – and on another day I could have got him for 20, and then we’re not talking about how brilliant he is.
“You can’t drop Virat Kohli on 21, because he’s one of the best players in the world, and he’ll capitalise on that – which he did. But we’ve just got to go away and know we can get him.
“No one is invincible in world cricket. We can get him out, and we’ll be trying to do that in the morning.”
England are still in with a chance largely thanks to the all-round contribution of 20-year-old Sam Curran who followed his first-innings four-wicket haul with a maiden Test half-century to inspire the recovery second time round from 87-7 to 180 all out.
Asked if he can credit how quickly Curran has risen to the challenge in just his second Test, Anderson said: “I can believe it, yes, because he’s a really impressive lad. I remember me as a 20-year-old, and I didn’t know what was going on … I was in awe of everyone.
“But he knows exactly what he’s doing, how to set batsmen up, and we saw he has talent with the bat as well. He’s obviously got a little bit of fight in him as well – to go out in that situation and show the guts and determination he did to get the team back into the match, when it looked like we were down and out, I thought was brilliant to see from such a young guy.”
Curran (four for 74) took three wickets in eight balls at one stage, but Kohli’s crucially was not among them as the India captain instead hit 149 to drag India right back into contention in the first Test at Edgbaston.
The tourists recovered from 100 for five, and then 182 for eight, to reach 274 all out and therefore concede a lead of only 13 runs to England, who then stumbled to nine for one after losing Alastair Cook to the last ball of day two.
England’s 20-year-old seamer understandably had mixed feelings in just his second Test.
“Credit to a great innings there,” he said.
“That’s what Test cricket is about, you play against the best players.
“I’m only in my second game, but I think it was a little eye-opener for me, watching the way he bats and how precise you’ve got to be with your lengths (to him).”
As for his own performance, Curran said: “Personally, it was a pretty special day for me with the ball.
“Coming on and taking a few early wickets, I can’t really remember it, it was so unreal.
“Obviously, it’s massive for me.
“In my first Test a couple of months ago against Pakistan, I was probably a little bit nervous.
“To get some wickets here, I felt like I was running in at The Oval for Surrey – I forgot about what I’m actually doing, and just stuck to what I’m good at.”
England were powerless to stop Kohli, although he was twice dropped in the slips – on 21 and 51.
“We had them 100 for five, and felt in the game, then Virat played really well with their tail and frustrated us a little bit,” said Curran.
“But he did nick a lot of balls outside off-stump that didn’t carry as well.
“No one means to drop catches, and on another day they would be taken.
“But you can’t dwell on those things too much, especially in a game like this, because there’s going to be another chance coming at you straightaway.”
Curran is delighted to find himself in the thick of such a gripping match.
“Everyone (here today) got what they paid for, it’s going to be a great Test,” he said.
“We’ve just got to bat big tomorrow, get as many runs as possible day three and day four, and put pressure on India, especially with the wicket starting to go up and down a little bit, and a bit of spin.”
Kohli had let the bat do his talking as he set the record straight so emphatically after averaging only 13.4 and mustering a tour aggregate of 134 runs on his only previous Test tour of England four years ago.
He did not feel the need to add to that statement by attending a post-match press conference, leaving India’s batting coach Sanjay Bangar to illustrate his achievement instead.
“His innings has narrowed the gap massively between the two teams,” said Bangar.
“At one stage we were staring down the barrel, and the gap was huge, but because of his brilliance and the commitment shown by the batsmen around him, it’s still even.
“Virat had to play through various phases where run making wasn’t that easy.
“But he showed terrific discipline. The way he batted with the tail was a lesson in itself.”