Peak Joe Root

Root is now using all his skills near perfectly.

Ravichandran Ashwin was trying something a bit sly. He was using a short run-up to slip one through and upset Ollie Pope’s rhythm. The ball is full and straight, trying to get that cheeky LBW. Pope rushes his shot and gets away with it.

In baseball, it’s called a quick pitch.

A few minutes later Ashwin tried it again, and Root backed away. He wouldn’t even let Ashwin try it.

For a very long time Joe Root was not in this kind of control of his batting senses. His batting was never terrible, but there is a dip there, and because he had made so many runs  before the drop looked worse.

And it was a hard thing to work out, because he would get to 50 easily, and then not go on. You would often hear he’d change small technical things, but essentially, the Root who was starring stopped.

And he was completely on top of the world. He was for the longest time, the biggest of the big four. But Smith moved past him quickly, and that’s fine, because he’s not a real boy. But then so did the other two. For a while, people wanted to downvote Smith out of the big four, even though Babar Azam is the wrong age. And Root somehow ended up under 50. But the last three innings have popped him back in front, and if anything, he looks like he’s in career-best form.

There was a point in this innings where Jasprit Bumrah delivered a full straight one. On the replay it was clear that Root was in a position so early. Like his foot was down before the ball was bowled. Bullet time in the matrix. Just after he was moving across his stumps to cover the reverse swing, but then the ball had slightly more width, and even though he was outside off stump, he arched back and played a back cut to the third man boundary. But it wasn’t one of those late cuts that are really edges, it was from the middle of the bat, into a gap, safe and obscene. Like a shot in a computer game.

And that width was fascinating, because almost every time he got something wide, he dealt with it, and there wasn’t much. Because the seamers bowled well, so Root treated them carefully. Below is the econ rates for types of bowlers from this match.

But what it also shows us just how good Root is against spin.  In the BBB era (since 2001 when we have ball by ball data, I just came up with this phrase, it may need work) he has the ninthth best average against spin. Now, many Asian batsmen would love to face most of their spin outside Asia, but clearly, Root can handle turn.

Cricviz recently did a special on how good Root is against it. And one thing they drilled down on is that he doesn’t play many balls in the danger zone. Which from a spinner is between 2 and 3 metres. He either goes back or way forward. It’s simple, smother when coming forward, extra time when you go back. And avoid the danger zone. He’s taken it to an extreme like he’s batting as an algorithm.

No one has been this good off the front and back foot for a long time. But a bit like two magical Hollywood dancers, Root is in near-perpetual motion, his biggest skill as a batsman is how easy he finds it to get off strike.

Like first ball of this match he came in after Bumrah had blasted one through Dan Lawrence. He gave Root a good ball around off stump, but Root defended with an open face to backward point. And off he jogged for a single as he always does.

But another thing that I liked about Root’s innings here is it was different to the Sri Lanka runs he made. He didn’t sweep as much here. Now perhaps it had something to do with the height that Ashwin and Sundar release the ball, or maybe Indian bowlers tried to be fuller so he couldn’t play the shot. But again this is Root at his very best, not playing one method, but changing for each match as he needs it.

And this doesn’t even include reverses or slog sweeps, which he played even more of at Galle. But this innings he found other ways to score, and when he thought he needed them, he reversed and slog-swept. Had the pitch spun more, he might up his sweep rate.

In the press conference before the game he was asked how he learnt to play the sweep so well. A few things happened. Joe Root was a small kid, he couldn’t hit the ball off the square when he was young, and so the sweep shot was important. And he played for a club, Sheffield Collegiate, where the ball spun a lot.

And not only that, Root had access to Nadeem Khan there, Moin Khan’s brother and now key figure in the future of Pakistan cricket. So he was trained to be this good against spin, it’s not an accident.

But his overall play seems on another level, against all the bowling right now. Peak Joe Root.

He even slowed down when he was playing with Stokes, because he could. After the day’s play, Stokes told talkSPORT “He’s got an option for every situation.”

And this isn’t new, Root has had all these tricks and skills for a while, it’s just in the last three Tests he is using them perfectly. And you know, it’s making kinda obscene runs.

But let me show you another way. Ravichandran Ashwin flights ball near off stump. Joe Root came down the wicket and smashed the ball over long-on, and then came down the wicket to talk to his partner. It was only a few seconds later when it seemed like Pope told him he had brought up his 200. He was thinking about the situation and what brush to use to finish his masterpiece with.

And think about how different that is from the other Ashwin situation. Joe Root is in the sort of form where he can notice the short run-up like an eagle spots a field vole, but couldn’t see the massive score he has achieved.