South Africa v England, third Test, January 2016
It’s something of a curiosity that Root’s 110 against South Africa at the Wanderers is rarely mentioned among the best of his 19 Test centuries. Maybe Stuart Broad, who sealed the series on the third day with an electric six for 17, is to blame.
Either way, it’s the innings that comes to my mind when picturing Root at his celestial best; you know, the frictionless, impish version of Root where the shots sound so crisp and footwork looks ready to take on Blackpool week in Strictly.
Batting was not easy under moody skies on the highveld either. Some 12 wickets had fallen without a half-century on the board by the time he stepped out into the Bullring with England in a bit of strife. And yet he transcended the bouncy, result-driven pitch through an audacious counterattack alongside Ben Stokes.
Mike Selvey, sat alongside me, labelled it “a technical masterpiece” when chronicling the array of high-elbowed drives and daring uppercuts, while Root simply called it “a relief”. You see, it had ended a run of five unconverted half-centuries and thus ensured that this particular issue never resurfaced again … oh. Ali Martin
India v England, fourth Test, December 2012
It was a December day in Nagpur that England, under new captain Alastair Cook, first took a punt on Joe Root. Just 21 and puppy-powered, he was plucked for the No 6 spot ahead of Samit Patel – seemingly from nowhere. But reports from the Lions were rosy and he’d been given two extra-long, prove-yourself nets before his selection. The Nagpur pitch was deliberately dead: slow and uneven, and Root came in with England unsteady at 119 for four. He gorgeously drove Piyush Chawla through the covers for three, and from that point onwards was all soft hands and preternatural calm – 73 in 229 balls and 289 minutes of happy concentration. Kevin Pietersen, standing at the other end, mused: “You can never judge a batsman after just a couple of hours at the crease, but he showed signs that he could have a good Test career.” Tanya Aldred
England v Australia, fourth Test, August 2015
England have just regained the Ashes at Trent Bridge in 2015, and as Sky’s Ian Ward infiltrates the victorious dressing room, he is confronted by Root in a rubber mask, impersonating Bob Willis. “Well, it wasn’t a patch on my day, was it?” Root whines, to peals of laughter from his teammates. And it’s a reminder that for all his diligently compiled runs and solemn leadership, one of Root’s most appealing qualities is his impish, bubble-pricking sense of humour.
We could have chosen numerous other examples: the time Stuart Broad chased him across the field after having his trousers pulled down, the time Root dissolved into giggles during an Ashes Test after Alastair Cook had been hit in the whatnots. It’s a side of Root we’ve seen less over the years – perhaps understandably. But it also strikes at one of Test cricket’s essential truths: sometimes, it helps if you can laugh at it. Jonathan Liew
England v New Zealand, first Test, May 2013
Five months after his Test debut Root was the talk of English cricket going into the home series against New Zealand, having scored a six-and-a-quarter-hour 179 against them for England Lions in a warm-up match, and he went into his first ever game at Lord’s having scored 646 runs in his previous four first-class innings and with Andy Flower warning that “everyone should keep a little calm about his prospects”. In England’s second knock both openers, Alastair Cook and Nick Compton, were out with the score on 36 and Root, promoted up the order because Ian Bell had flu, joined Jonathan Trott, nearly 10 years his senior, with England’s lead at 61 and the match delicately poised, and took charge. His 71 was not perfect – there was some particularly jittery running (the Kiwi keeper BJ Watling injured a knee trying to run him out) but it was startlingly mature and set up a comfortable victory, completed when Anderson and Broad skittled the Kiwis for 68. Root’s maiden century came in his next Test innings, at Headingley a week later. Simon Burnton
England v South Africa, first Test, July 2017
Root’s first Test as captain, day one at Lord’s: the perfect stage, the perfect knock, and a moment of era-forging ignition. Except, not quite. Or at least, not quite yet. Skip forward four years from this magnificently fluent innings to the recent back-to-back daddies against Sri Lanka and you might imagine the 43 Tests in between had been a tale of unbroken triumph. In reality things have been harder. After Lord’s Root had 12 hundreds in 54 Tests and averaged 53.80. In the next 43 he added five hundreds, just two at home, and at times looked to have lost that vital sense of fun and urgency in his batting, the same fluent, joyful quality that sent him surging from a hundred to 190 in 84 balls against a high class South Africa attack. The early captain’s bloom of Lord’s 2017 has yet to be fully cashed in. But there was an ominously frisky look to his batting in Sri Lanka. Root is only just 30. This might be the start of Act Two. Barney Ronay
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West Indies v England, third Test, February 2019
During the third Test against West Indies in St Lucia in 2019, Shannon Gabriel took exception to the way Root was looking at him. “Why are you smiling at me?” Gabriel said. “Do you like boys?” Root, quiet but firm, replied: “Don’t use it as an insult – there’s nothing wrong with being gay.” You wish it didn’t need saying. But it did, and even more depressingly, it still does.
Homosexuality is still a criminal offence in the majority of the Test-playing nations. Which might be why, to this day, only one male international cricketer has come out as gay during his career. Comments such as Gabriel’s don’t help (and he’s not the only one, two Australian internationals were punished for using homophobic slurs around that time, too). Comments such as Root’s do. It was a fine, quick, clear bit of moral leadership from a man a lot of people said was too immature to make a good captain. Andy Bull