Joe Root mounts fightback to ease England slump

Joe Root
Joe Root

A dreadful afternoon collapse saw England’s hopes of beating India in the first Investec Test nosedive before Joe Root led a late fightback on day three at Trent Bridge.

Having bemoaned the lifeless nature of the Nottingham pitch during two long days in the field, the hosts conspired with Ishant Sharma’s inspired three-wicket burst to lose 6-74 in two turbulent hours between lunch and tea.

At that stage the embarrassing prospect of failing to meet the follow-on target loomed large, but Root dug deep to ensure England were still scrapping 105 behind on 352-9 at stumps.

The Sheffield man batted with resolve and determination to make 78no, conjuring a vital stand of 78 with Stuart Broad (47) and an unbroken last-wicket partnership worth 54 with James Anderson.

Should Root and Anderson be parted early on day four, England will still be nursing a sizeable deficit and guarding against defeat, but it could have been so much worse.

They had staggered haphazardly to tea at 205-7 having started the session 131-1 with Sam Robson (59) and Gary Ballance (71) looking largely untroubled.

England would have been forgiven for thinking a tricky morning awaited them when they arrived at the ground under the murkiest skies of the match so far.

But, as it transpired, Ballance and Robson negotiated things with minimal fuss.

It was not the kind of session that will linger long in the memory, a combination of steady batsmanship, orthodox fields and a rotating cast of bowlers searching for a breakthrough that refused to come.

Ravindra Jadeja’s left-arm spin came closest to changing the pattern - Robson turning him to leg slip, where Virat Kohli grassed a sharp chance.

In total, England added 88 before lunch, Ballance having won the race to fifty with an inspired flurry of six boundaries in 17 balls.

The tone shifted dramatically in the afternoon, as England’s calm accumulation gave way in emphatic fashion.

Robson was first to fall, two overs in, when Ishant’s passionate lbw appeal persuaded umpire Bruce Oxenford to raise his finger.

Robson seemed unimpressed and replays, although inconclusive, suggested there may have been an inside edge.

Ishant’s next ball, to Ian Bell, disappeared to the long-leg boundary, but it was a rare gift in a fine spell from the seamer.

He continued to pound out a testing line and length and bagged a second leg before verdict when Ballance was trapped in front, this time with no hint of bat.

Things were beginning to look vulnerable at 154 for three and Ishant did not let the moment pass.

Having dismissed both of England’s overnight batsmen he then accounted for Bell, the middle-order prize since Kevin Pietersen’s sacking.

It was a curious wicket, Bell shaping to cut a short ball before running it straight to the wicketkeeper having made an abortive attempt to pull out of the stroke.

Root and Moeen Ali briefly consolidated before England’s disappointing session entered even darker territory with three wickets in the space of 10 deliveries.

Moeen spoiled what had been a handsome innings when he turned his back on a Mohammed Shami bouncer only for the ball to rap him on the glove and sail gently to Shikhar Dhawan at slip.

Matt Prior was a blameless victim, bafflingly given caught behind off Bhuvneshwar Kumar despite missing the ball by a distance.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni made a smart take having come up to the stumps, but the crucial element of willow on leather was striking by its absence.

There was no such excuse for Ben Stokes, playing his first Test knock on home turf, as he nicked his second ball for a duck.

England hobbled to tea in a daze and it might have been worse had one of India’s close catchers been close enough to snare Broad for nought moments before the break.

Having survived that scare, Broad came back out with a newly aggressive mindset.

He flogged Shami’s first ball of the evening for four, setting the tone for a wonderful counter-attacking stand of 78 in 85 balls with Root.

The Yorkshireman had been hanging on as wickets tumbled around him but Broad’s carefree knock, including a series of flowing drives through cover, seemed to liberate him.

Indian heads were beginning to drop as the pair’s happy hitting continued, until Kumar pinned Broad lbw three short of his half-century.

Kumar bowled Liam Plunkett for his fourth success but number 11 Anderson provided solidity and five unexpected boundaries in a late rearguard that began to recall the one that propped up the India innings on day two.

By the close Root was working the field with ease and will be looking to Anderson to keep him company in pursuit of his fourth Test century on Saturday.