Joe Root, the blond 22-year-old batsman from Sheffield, made a monumental century for England against Australia. Apart from amendments to the age and perhaps the hair colour that statement is likely to be repeated many times in the years ahead.
The nights may be about to draw in but Root’s composed, mature innings of 178no merely extended the daylight between these two teams. By the close of the third day, England led by 566 runs, 148 more than has been made to win a Test match anywhere and 222 beyond what has been scored to win one at Lord’s.
England lost only two wickets on the third day while adding 302 to their overnight score of 31 for 3 when they looked a little lost. Root shared partnerships of 99 with his fellow Yorkshireman, Tim Bresnan, of 153 with Ian Bell and then in the evening when they were rampant of 51 in 70 balls with Jonny Bairstow.
The only surprise was that Bell, controversially reprieved when he was three, did not go on to complete his third hundred of the series. Root, endlessly diligent, took 247 balls in reaching his hundred with his 12 four and then proceeded at a run a ball thereafter. His dominance was complete when he pulled two sixes in the day’s penultimate over to embellish his 18 fours.
Australia, already 1-0 down in this series and having lost the Ashes twice in succession, may be starting to understand a little how England felt for 16 years (and 92 days, not that anybody was counting) embracing eight successive series when they were continually pushed from pillar to post and back again. It is something that combines desperation, helplessness, and wildly misplaced optimism amid constant musing on what the hell to do next.
A little of their anger and frustration was encapsulated in a curt tweet emanating from the official Cricket Australia account in mid-afternoon. It followed the strange, misguided decision to let Bell continue batting after he seemed for all the world to have been caught by Steve Smith in the gully off Ryan Harris.
Bell was perfectly entitled to ask the umpires to adjudicate and the third official, Tony Hill, ruled that there was sufficient doubt about the ball having carried to deny the wicket. Before long Cricket Australia objected in tones that might lead the neutral observer to conclude that they were fed up with life, universe and everything. Soon after that they announced an inquiry into the tweet but the sentiment was clear.
‘Twas ever thus. When a team is up against it the marginal decisions always seem to go against them. Ask England of yesteryear. If, as seems probable, England complete victory in this match sometime today or tomorrow, Australia would have to win three matches in a row to regain the urn. They have done so once before in 1936-37 but then they had Don Bradman in his pomp to score hundreds in three successive matches, two of them doubles.
There is no Bradman now and not a prayer of his successors emulating that feat. Play on the third day of this match, sponsored by Investec, consisted of England first denying their opponents and then ramming home their dominance. In a series that had been marked by the spectacular and the sensational it was mundane fare but it was also brutally effective.
It threw further into perspective the neglectful wretchedness of Australia’s batting in being bowled out for 128 and allowing England a first innings lead of 233 runs. There is almost never any way back from that in Tests. Only once in Ashes history has a side come back from a greater deficit, when England trailed by 261 in Melbourne 118 years ago.
Root was rarely flamboyant but never other than purposeful. His only obvious mistake in his occupation of a little more than seven hours had been on the previous night when England were wobbling. Had Brad Haddin taken the edge that flew to his right when Root was eight, the series leaders might have finished the day four wickets down.
There might have been costlier misses in the history of Test cricket and the distance between these sides is so great that it is unlikely Haddin was allowing the Ashes to slip through his gloves. But it was another example of the way of the world for Australia.
Root was accompanied by his fellow Yorkshireman, Tim Bresnan, until well into the afternoon. Bresnan had come in as a kind of superior nightwatchman on Friday and stayed around long enough to tantalise Australia to distraction. There was no rush so England did not rush. They seemed to do little more than tootle along in the morning when they added 81 in 31 overs. But it was designed to break Australia’s spirit.
Bresnan was out when he pulled a short ball from James Pattinson to mid-wicket after which Bell was strangely circumspect. For long enough he did not quite look like the player who had scored two seamless hundreds in the past few days and he was extremely fortunate to survive.
He was more like his recent self afterwards and gradually he and Root upped the ante as Australia ran out of steam and ideas. The match was well beyond them and all they could was keep going, rotating the bowlers, trying and failing not to appear listless.
Root is the youngest England player to score a hundred against Australia at Lord’s, though only the second youngest Yorkshireman to make a hundred in the Ashes. Len Hutton was 21 years, 352 days when he made 364 at The Oval in 1938 and Pudsey went wild. Root was 22 years, 202 days yesterday and if were there time 364 would not look beyond him.