Joe Root, Virat Kohli, and the Contrasting Fortunes of Two Former Captains
Root has turned into a monster in the middle in recent times while the wait for Kohli's 28th Test hundred continues.
The chorus of 'Hey Jude', the iconic song by The Beatles, reverberated in the air through the Barmy Army trumpet as Joe Root kept finding gaps at Edgbaston on Tuesday, 5 July. England has been getting "better, better and better." No other English side had ever chased the target of 370+ in the fourth innings. The new England side seems to be ticking the right boxes with the aggressive BazBall approach – the style of their new head coach Brendon McCullum.
Despite not being the captain, Joe Root is a leader in the new train of thought. He is the smooth operator helping new skipper Ben Stokes carve a style to win. After chasing down 277, 299, and 296 in their last three Tests against New Zealand, achieving the target of 378 against India to level the series 2-2 is a new record for England.
Root smashed three tons and an unbeaten fifty in the last four Tests – twice in the fourth innings to anchor the chase – to emerge a hero. He was always consistent, but with no burden of captaincy, he has become more resolute, an authoritative campaigner whose aggression lies in his calmness.
The 31 year old currently averages 50.75; his average as captain was 46.44. He started turning the tide when batting against the Kiwis – unbeaten 115 at Lord's, 176 in Nottingham, and 86 not out at Leeds. But the dominating 142* at Edgbaston against a quality Indian bowling attack marked his class against all odds.
King Kohli Falling in the Pecking Order
Virat Kohli last scored a Test hundred in November 2019 against Bangladesh at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. At that time, Root stood at 17 Test hundreds, and in the past two and a half years, he has added 11 more tons to overtake the former Indian captain's 27 Test hundreds.
Kohli has been without a hundred for 18 Tests now. And in this period, Root hit three double hundreds – 226 versus New Zealand in Hamilton, 228 against Sri Lanka at Galle, and 218 against India in Chennai.
In the recently concluded Test series against India that was postponed to 2022 due to the COVID-19 situation, Root hammered a total of four centuries.
Between November 2019 and July 2022, Kohli scored six fifties and two of them made a difference. The 62 against England at home and 50 at The Oval resulted in victories. The first innings – 74 in Adelaide (36 all-out day-night Test), and 79 in Cape Town – did not help matters as India lost both games.
Although, India head coach Rahul Dravid said that a fighting 60 or a 70 is a good enough contribution from Kohli if that wins the game for India.
But in that case, what happens to brand Kohli? The man himself would want to change things around to hold on to his 'run machine' reputation.
Where Kohli's Going Wrong, and Root Isn't
Overall, Kohli has been struggling against spinners at home. His feet have not been moving well to tackle spin. Kohli fell to Dom Bess, Jack Leach, and Moeen Ali (twice) at home against England last year. Later, New Zealand spinners Ajaz Patel and Rachin Ravindra got him at Wankhede Stadium.
Earlier this year, against Sri Lanka, when he started under new skipper Rohit Sharma, the same problem against spin resurfaced as Lasith Embuldeniya, Dhananjaya De Silva, and Praveen Jayawickrama dismissed him without any difficulties. Slow left-arm orthodox Embuldeniya cleaned him up while De Silva and Jayawickrama trapped him in front of the stumps.
Kohli has been unlucky on a few occasions: for example, the unplayable short ball he faced from Ben Stokes in Edgbaston. No other batter was a victim of the variable bounce. He was batting well on 20 and had found four boundaries.
The larger problem is that he has not been able to score at home, and it is understandable if his confidence has been further dented while touring overseas. At present, he averages 49.53 in Tests and is below Steve Smith (59.37), Kane Williamson (52.62), and Root (50.76) – the other stars in the Fab Four list.
On the other hand, Root started sweeping and reverse-sweeping spinners in recent times. He totally changed the perception that English batters cannot play spin in the subcontinent. The former England captain averages 50.01 in India and 65.50 in Sri Lanka. At home, the number reads 55.22.
Root: The Greatest of All Time
Captain or not, Root has done enough to be considered as one of the greatest batters of all time. He became the second English cricketer after Alastair Cook to score 10,000+ runs in red-ball cricket. He achieved this milestone during the Lord's Test (his 118th) versus the Kiwis last month.
In 102 Tests, Kohli's run meter reads 8,074. He plays all formats and has to go through the high-pressure IPL. Root, who made his Test debut in December 2012, a year after Kohli, only plays in whites. And there is no stopping his run wheel.
It is rather strange to observe how hard Kohli is trying to regain the rockstar image he once carried. The banter with Jonny Bairstow was uncalled for. India did not benefit from it, England did. Bairstow ended up with two crucial hundreds to show how it is done.
(Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyya is an independent sports journalist based in Kolkata. He enjoys playing multiple sports when not reporting on it.)
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