England captain Joe Root scored his 23rd Test century and his sixth of 2021 on Day Two of the third Test against India at Headingley, his home ground. His strokeful 121 came in quick time – 165 deliveries – and appeared blemish-less even as Dawid Malan (70, 128b) and Jonny Bairstow (29, 43b) batted well around him to consolidate England’s position.
Malan, who added 139 runs with Root, praised his captain for his free-flowing innings.
“He’s phenomenal, isn’t he? He scores runs all the time. The ease with which he does it and the speed with which he does it – you look up and suddenly he’s 20 not out, and you don’t remember a shot that he’s played. He’s just that busy and he scores that quickly,” Malan told reporters at a virtual press conference at the end of the day’s play.
“It’s surreal to be able to bat with him; he’s fantastic. He’s led from the front again, as he’s done in the Test series so far. All credit needs to go to him, after what the two openers did to set it up for myself and for Rooty and for the rest of the team,” Malan added.
‘Best seat in the house’
Outlining some of Root’s qualities which separated him from the rest, Malan said, “He moves his feet so well. The ball position when he hits the ball is so good. He hits the ball so much later than most people. He always looks to score; if you bowl a bad ball, he just puts you away. That’s a massive strength. You look at all the best players that have played or the greats, as soon as you miss your line and your length, they hurt you. Joe is one of those. It’s great to watch him, and it’s great to have the best seat in the house when he does play as well as he does there.”
It was another good day for England after a one-sided Day One. The first-innings lead is now worth 345 and the home team still has two wickets in hand. Malan felt his team should try to bat as long as possible on a pitch that is still very good for batting. “The longer we bat on that, the more wear and tear would be on that wicket,” he said.
Was the Indian team a bit flat during the day’s play, or was it undone by how the pitch was playing out? “[The Indians] absolutely ran and tried their absolute socks off. The wicket changed massively from the first day. From the first hour when they batted till we were batting. So I wouldn’t say that they were flat at all. I thought they ran in really hard and they asked a lot of questions. Probably didn’t help quite as much as the other wickets did for them in the series,” Malan said.
Given the scenario at the business end of the post-lunch session – flat and dry pitch, tiring bowlers – Malan’s dismissal was against the run of play. He tried to flick a delivery going down the leg side, and nicked it. The umpire hadn’t given it out; the review was taken, and the snickometer revealed a spike when the ball passed the bat.
Malan was disappointed to have missed out on a century.
“To get out for 70 was obviously disappointing. I felt like I missed out on a big one there, which is disappointing. You don’t get those opportunities too often, on wickets that play that well, and getting to 70. Felt like I left a few out there, getting out the way I did,” Malan said.
Malan, who was returning to the Test team after three years, hoped to score a few runs in the rest of the series to strengthen his case for selection for the Ashes.
“There are still five Test innings this summer. If I get selected for those, that would probably do a lot to get me on the plane. I don’t think there are any guarantees of who is going for the winter. So, these are five big innings left in this series, if selected, [I need] four or all five of those to show why I actually deserve to go to Australia,” he said.
For now, though, without much clarity with regard to the T20 World Cup and the Ashes, he had committed to playing the second leg of IPL 2021.
“We don’t know if we’re going to the World Cup. We don’t know if we’re going to the Ashes. It leaves us in quite a tough situation. Say, if you give up the IPL, you don’t get picked for either of the England squads. If you haven’t given up on the IPL, then you get selected after you go to the IPL, then you’re sat in the bubble for five and a half months. It’s a tricky situation at the moment.”