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Joe Root’s off-spin gives England the option of playing two pacers

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Last updated on 27 Jan 2024 | 05:59 AM
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Joe Root’s off-spin gives England the option of playing two pacers

He ended with 4/79 - the most successful bowler for England in the innings, outdoing everyone sans none

Joe Root’s bowling is filthy. Not literally, of course. But how can you justify a side-arm bowler, with literally no variations, going gung-ho on Indian wickets? How can you admire someone’s bowling that seems like a simple curvy arc drawn when you’re asked to project a scenic valley on paper?

While engrossing in the perfect art of Ravichandran Ashwin, we sometimes tend to underestimate the impact bowlers like Joe Root have in Indian conditions. There need not be any simplification theory or bowling 200 balls a day to nail down the technique of Indian conditions. 

Instead, he is just a part-timer tasked with the duties of filling in for a superior bowler going through knee issues. That itself randomizes how he should be perceived, but has he not done enough already to command some more respect?

A day before the first ball of the series was bowled, England made an open declaration of intent by opting to play three spinners in Jack Leach, debutant Tom Hartley, and leggie Rehan Ahmed. The moment Leach returned from his seven-month injury-forced hiatus, he became an automatic selection but the latter two had a total of 64 first-class wickets between them. Add Shoaib Bashir to the mix, the number goes up to 74. Pretty dire indeed. 

The lack of inexperience was so pronounced that Hartley and Rehan failed to land three good balls in a row. You don’t fault them for that - it is their first day on an India tour. It is where conditions surely matter, but approach becomes more of a telling factor. They would perhaps learn, as Jeetan Patel suggested on Day 2, going forward in the series, but by then, they would already be down 0-1.

It also needs to be kept in mind that Jack Leach is facing a sore knee after bumping it twice in the last two days - which limited his spells to three to four overs at max. He needed to be managed, which left England even more vulnerable to Indian attack. 

It was when Root made his mark. Not the best bait against right-handers, against whom he averages over 60 in his Test career, Root enticed Yashasvi Jaiswal with a dipping delivery and the latter was carried away with his instinct of playing uppish drive all the time. A caught and bowled later, England were certainly enjoying their time under the sun. Had others provided a little more control than they did, accounting for India’s approach, they would perhaps not be trailing by 190 but somewhere in the range of 100 runs.

It also didn’t help that England had only pace-bowling option in the form of Mark Wood. Playing James Anderson might not have been as beneficial as having a Jasprit Bumrah did for India, but he could have provided massive assistance with the new ball and, if you remember Chennai 2021, with the old ball too. 

Even though Bashir joins the squad in Visakhapatnam, it won’t solve any problem. Thus doing away with one spinner and trusting Root a little more might be the most persistent factor for England in the next game. He allows that flexibility to the side, and it is up to Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum to take the cue.

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