Joe Root is smiling. He was, in fact, smiling ever since he came out to bat on Saturday. Played with a kind of delight that made many wonder if it was the same player who had an absolute stinker of home performance in the last three years. Such was the class of the English skipper that if any ball was landed in the zone, it found its way to the fence. Struggle at home? Oh, Please.
The moment the England skipper came out for the post-match presentation, one would have hoped the smile would have simmered down by now. But Nah. It was intact. Probably more than ever.
England were nowhere close to winning the Test in Nottingham. Despite India’s propensity to losing the plot far too often, 157 more runs were never going to trouble them as such. The sun was out with all its glory on Day 4 and batting had become a simpler exercise. A few hours of extension on Sunday would have helped them seal the first Test of the Summer and take the bragging rights to Lord’s.
This draw would crush India big-time. They haven’t been at their best at the opening Tests of a series for a long time. In fact, the Adelaide Test of 2018 is the only time in recent memory when India had eked out a win in the first Test of the series in SENA countries. The horrors of Wellington 2020, Adelaide 2020, and heck, even the Chennai Test of earlier this summer were alive in their memory. The jokes of “don’t beat India in the first Test” had become commonplace by now, but the cricketers know something that we don’t.
They know how important it is to drive home the advantage in the first Test to stay alive in the series and always having that cushion to fall back on. They know in cricket, momentum matters as much as sustainability. It is a trait often underestimated. Thus it is open to interpretation how dejected Team India would be feeling now. Virat Kohli gave a sneak-peak of that.
“We were expecting rain on days three and four but it chose to come on day five. It would have been enjoyable to play and watch, but it's a shame. This is exactly what we wanted to do; start strong. On day five we knew we had our chances. We certainly felt like we were on top of the game. Getting that lead was crucial, but it's a shame we couldn't finish day five,” Kohli said at the post-match presentation.
Notwithstanding the result, the Indian side can take a lot of positives away from the Test. Be it KL Rahul’s magnificent performance on Test return to Jasprit Bumrah picking nine wickets of his own after a horror show in Southampton to the tail-enders adding useful runs down the order, there were a lot of boxes ticked. It would keep them in good stead for the Lord’s bout but more than anything else, it must have given them the desired confidence to take the opposition on its head.
“It's hard work of three odd weeks for our bowlers with the bat. We were talking of a lead of 40-odd but we ended up with 95 and those runs were gold dust. Most likely this will be our template (playing with four pacers) in this series, but adaptability has been our strength. The conditions and the pace on the wicket need to be seen, but this team will be our template,” Kohli added.
For Joe Root, it was another validation of his magnificent body of work. Quite literally, he has been carrying the load of the English side for some time now and in Ben Stokes’ absence, when the stakes were high, he reacted in some fashion. This century might be his catharsis. The smile just added beauty to the puzzle.
“To finally get to my century was a relief given how I played throughout the day. I think India have a very good seam attack and credit to them for the way they bowled. I just wanted to put the pressure back on them with a few shots. Certainly feel full of confidence on the back of that,” Root, the Player of the Match, said in the post-match ceremony.
All the events that came together have made the second Test all the more interesting. There would be an outpouring of emotions but more importantly, there is a promise for another magnificent Test match. And honestly, that is everything a cricket fan needs at the moment.