Danny Hall at Headingley: Familiarity in more ways than one as Joe Root brings his England to his home

Joe Root
Joe Root

The short journey from Sheffield to Leeds was almost second nature; the surroundings more than familiar. Unfortunately for Joe Root, as he strode to the wicket at Headingley yesterday, so was the situation.

Once more, England were two down for not very many; 26 this time, with Alastair Cook and Tom Westley both knocked over by West Indies’ quicks.

A young Joe Root during his days at Dore Primary School

A young Joe Root during his days at Dore Primary School

A capacity Headingley crowd wanted to see the England captain, their own boy done good. Just not, one imagined, this early.

Around 90 minutes earlier, Root had passed his first test in his first Test as England skipper at Headingley; win the toss.

With sun baking down on Headingley and memories of an innings victory in the last Test at Edgbaston in his mind, the coin had barely stopped rolling before he got his words out. We’ll bat.

The cricketing Gods saw to Cook, Root’s predecessor as skipper and a man coming into this Test with 243 runs to his name in the one innings at Edgbaston. But after batting for nine hours and 22 minutes in Birmingham, he lasted just 24 balls here before the returning Shannon Gabriel found his outside edge, and Kyle Hope took a good low catch at third slip.

Joe Root stands on the Headingley pitch on the day he was unveiled as England captain

Joe Root stands on the Headingley pitch on the day he was unveiled as England captain

Westley’s sixth international innings ended in inevitable circumstances soon after, as he played across the line once more and was trapped lbw by Kemar Roach.

For the fifth time in ten innings since Root took charge, and the third time in England’s last three, he was at the wicket with the scoreboard not yet showing 50. His captaincy is very still much in its infancy but with the Ashes in Australia looming large, England’s top order problems still persist.

But Root is nothing but a fighter, although a superb technique and a knack for churning out runs often masks a steely character. There was no time to worry about events down the line is Brisbane, Perth and Sydney when Roach aimed his first ball right at Root’s head, but a flowing drive with the second - stopped by the bowler - suggested there was no clarity of thought lacking here.

With Headingley slowly starting to fill and, with the Dickie Bird clock on the lively Western Terrace signalling time for another beer for some, Root got off the mark in typical fashion; a beautiful cover drive off Roach which the England skipper, like the rest of us, simply stood and admired as it raced to the boundary.

Joe Root faced the press at Headingley

Joe Root faced the press at Headingley

Opener Mark Stoneman, who’d looked steady for his 19, departed soon after after flashing at an inswinger from Roach. Then came West Indies’ real chance of making inroads into England, into this Test and into the series; the fifth ball of the 19th over, when Shannon Gabriel found the edge of Root’s bat.

The whole of Headingley gasped. Root turned to walk back to the pavilion. Kieran Powell, at first slip, watched the ball all the way into his hands. And watched, too, as it fell out again and hit the turf.

Was it to be his day? After all Headingley is a special place for Root. Well before he was unveiled as England skipper - at this ground, naturally, rather than Lord’s - the Yorkshire batsman took his formative cricket steps on this hallowed turf. Or, to be more precise, at the indoor school over the road; Kevin Sharp, the former Yorkshire coach, gave a 13-year-old Root an intensive batting session usually reserved for season professionals.

Sharp hit the youngster on the head with his first ball. Root grinned back. Sharp said there and then this youngster would one day open the batting for Yorkshire.

How Sharp’s prophecy has been fulfilled, and then some. That boy is now a man, and sometimes more; a hero, for sure, as shown by the 20-foot advertising poster of his face and the murmurs of ‘Rooooooot’ that greeted his every boundary, growing steadily louder as the runs flowed and so did the beer.

Before 3pm, he was 50 not out and the holder of a world record; one of two players in the history of cricket to have made a half-century in 12 consecutive Test matches. By 3.15pm, he was gone; caught off the inauspicious legspin of Devendra Bishoo as he attempted to sweep, the ball instead taking the edge and looping leisurely to slip.

Frustration evident, Root swung his bat angrily but any cross words at himself, and another missed opportunity to convert one of those half-centuries into three figures, were drowned out as his public rose to applaud him.

At 26-2, they were staring down the barrel. At 140-5, as one Yorkshireman replaced another with Root out and Jonny Bairstow in, they were right back in it.

Not even Bairstow’s dismissal, to a good, low catch from skipper Jason Holder, could quieten the Terrace. As the Yorkshire Tea band played in front of them at tea, a growing beer snake suggested the revellers in there weren’t entirely fuelled by cuppas alone. When play resumed, Ben Stokes - who had earlier led the counterattacking fightback with Root - was nearing a century with his usual aggression, but the cricket had long become a sideshow for large sections of the crowd.

Down the back of the Terrace Donald Trump danced with a group of Mexicans, to chants of ‘Build The Wall’. A topless bloke, vision obstructed by a rubber zebra’s head, walked straight into a bin at the front of the stand. A bunch of cavemen lined up in a conga past Batman, Robin and Superman who, by this point, don’t appear overly concerned about England’s top-order struggles ahead of the Ashes.

Even in their state of inebriation, one imagines they could still have caught better than the Windies. Gabriel, who’d earlier seen Root dropped off his bowling, then put down arguably one of the worst shelled catches ever seen, giving Stokes a life on 98 from an absolute dolly at mid-on. Then after Stokes finally fell, for two runs more and a superb hundred, Shane Dowrich offered Gabriel some competition by dropping Broad before England eventually fell for 258.

The Windies still had a tricky period to overcome before stumps, and Powell’s miserable day was compounded when he fell for just five 15 minutes from the close of play, which came at 19-1.

By then, the Terrace had lulled somewhat. Trump’s Mexicans had deserted him, and even Batman had lost his Robin. But it was still a day for heroes; and 59 runs and a world record wasn’t a bad Headingley homecoming for England’s, even if he did prove he is perhaps human after all.