1st Test, Day 1: Joe Root’s cover drive brings back memories of Len Hutton
Who would have imagined, at the outset of this potentially bruising contest, that Australia’s post-tea attack on Day One would be the twin-trundlers of Shane Watson and David Warner? And who would have thought, after the pre-match billing of Australia’s fearsome fast bowling unit wreaking havoc, that Joe Root would be regularly striding onto the front and unfurling a cover drive reminiscent of Len Hutton off the pedestrian India attack circa 1952.
Root’s off drive is not quite in the Hutton or Michael Vaughan class aesthetically, but it has a number of versions and they were all on display yesterday. After he had been crucially dropped by Brad Haddin on nought he leant onto a full ball from Mitchell Starc and eased it through a miniscule gap between the stumps and mid off. At 43-3 it was a similar nerve settler to Root’s silky square drive against New Zealand at Lords a month ago, after he had come in at 30-3. It is a soothing shot that says all is well with the world and I will take charge here.
Take charge he did. After the Australians had offered him a few short and wide that, on this sluggish pitch, sat up and begged ‘hit me’, he seized on anything full, gliding, smearing or steering the ball through the offside with a wristy flourish. The foot was not always to the pitch, but Root backs his eye and his hands to make clean contact, and the transfer of weight from backfoot to front, the bend of the front knee synchronized simultaneously with bat hitting ball, ensures perfect timing.
Root fizzed with purpose and intent, invigorating the innings after the quick loss of Cook and Bell, pressurizing the bowlers, scoring at a run a ball and allowing Gary Ballance precious time at the crease to get his bearings. There was the occasional swish and one inside edge that narrowly missed the stumps but Root exuded confidence and control, and the bowling, particularly of the left-arm nasties who’d promised to make the batsmen smell the leather, was pure aerosol. Starc, in particular, sprayed it everywhere.
The pitch was admittedly a bowlers graveyard, like banging a rock on plasticene, and it required focus and discipline from the Australian seamers. This was not forthcoming. Johnson leaked six runs and over, and Starc was only slightly more economical because some of his deliveries the batsmen couldn’t reach. Only the new boy Josh Hazlewood offered a semblance of control.
With great elan, Root stroked the ball across the green sward, reeling off drives that teased the fielders all the way to the rope. He never looked hurried or hesitant and picked off runs almost at will. He got to his hundred – his fourth in the last 11 test matches in which he averages 90 – with a regal square drive. And then, after frolicking in the middle a little while longer, he went for another drive and edged Starc to first slip. A strength is sometimes a weakness, but by then the damage to Australia’s self-belief had been well and truly inflicted.