Joe Root reaches 100 Tests: Fantastic at four, career peaks and the pursuit of Tendulkar

By Sports Desk February 04, 2021

Joe Root is used to reaching milestones, but the batsman will bring up a special Test century when he leads England in the series opener against India.  

For Root, the game in Chennai – the first of four in the series – will see him make his 100th Test appearance. He will become just the 15th Englishman to get to the landmark in the format and the 69th overall. 

The fresh-faced 21-year-old who made his debut in India in 2012 is now a fresh-faced 30-year-old considered one of the best in the world, with his memories of that maiden outing still helping to shape the player he is.

"Walking out for the first time in an England shirt would probably be the proudest moment," he said.

"I look back at walking out to bat and seeing Kevin Pietersen at the other end, someone I watched as a teenager and as a kid growing up, and I just couldn't stop smiling. I was living my childhood dream and have been ever since.

"Whenever I'm going through a lean spell or things aren't quite falling for me, I try to look back at that moment and remember what that feeling was like – almost try and embrace that really excitable young lad and bring that into the current situation."

THE HIGHS AND LOWS AHEAD OF A BUSY YEAR 

To say 2021 will be a busy year for Root is an understatement. While not currently part of England's plans in Twenty20 cricket, meaning he seems set to miss out on the World Cup in India in October and November, there is plenty on the Test captain's plate.  

The tour to India will see England play four of their scheduled 17 Tests across the calendar year, a schedule that includes a home series against the same opponents, the visit of ICC Test Championship finalists New Zealand and, after that busy summer, the small matter of an Ashes tour.  

He made an outstanding start with 426 runs on the recent tour of Sri Lanka, helping England secure a 2-0 series sweep that extended their winning streak overseas to five matches, their best run away since 1914.  

Yet Root went into that tour off the back of a below-par year. His top score in 2020 was 68, though he still finished with an average of 42.2, narrowly better than 2018 (41.2) and 2019 (37). The right-hander managed as many three-figure scores in January as he recorded across the previous two years combined.  

If England are to prosper on what will undoubtedly be a long and tough road ahead, Root will need to lead from the front. Captaincy has seen his batting numbers suffer – he averages 45.7 as skipper, compared to 52.8 beforehand – but the signs are some tinkering during time off has allowed him to rediscover his best form at just the right time.

RUNS ON TOUR, FANTASTIC AT FOUR 

India has been a happy destination for Root on previous trips, including hitting 124 in the drawn series opener on the 2016 tour. It was also the country where he made his Test bow, four years earlier. Batting at six, an innings of 73 offered a demonstration of his undoubted skill. 

The Yorkshireman has had plenty of other good moments against India: they are one of five opposing nations he has scored over 1,000 Test runs against. Only Alastair Cook (seven) has managed it against more countries for England.  

Australia is also on that list for Root, who will be hoping to improve on a career average of 38 when he heads Down Under again later this year. His first tour there in 2013-14 was particularly tough, with a run of low scores leading to him being left out of the XI in Sydney. It was a rare low point, while also serving as motivation to make sure it never happened again.  

His 2017-18 tour was more productive, albeit without a three-figure score. Conversion rates are often used as a measurement when comparing the leading names, and Root’s numbers – 19 centuries but 49 scores between 50 and 99 – have been used against him when held up alongside Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson.  

The needs of the team have seen him moved up and down the order, away from his favoured place at four. That position has seen him score 10 of his Test hundreds, while only Kevin Pietersen (6,490) and Denis Compton (4,234) have amassed more runs when occupying that spot for England.  

"I know previous captains have preferred to get out there early and just get amongst it but I quite like to split the two and to really focus on my batting," he said in November 2019 during a tour to New Zealand. "I've found over time that, generally, I've consistently played better in that position."  

The numbers back up his statement; Root has a 52.2 average when listed at four in the batting order. Only at five (69.1) has he done better, albeit with a far smaller sample size.

ENGLAND EXPECTS AND THE PURSUIT OF TENDULKAR 

During his brilliant double hundred in the first Test in Sri Lanka, Root became the seventh Englishman to reach 8,000 runs in the format.   

By the end of the trip, he had moved past Geoffrey Boycott, Pietersen and David Gower on the all-time run-scoring list for his country – and it is unlikely he will have to wait long to overtake two more legendary names.  

Root’s tally after 99 Tests stands at 8,249 runs. Alec Stewart (8,463) and Graham Gooch (8,900) are firmly in his sights, particularly when you consider the number of games to come this year.  

However, Cook is well clear at the top. The opening batsman and former skipper finished with 12,472 runs in 161 appearances. Only four men in the history of the game have managed more, Sachin Tendulkar (15,921 runs in 200 Tests) leading the way.  

Could Root potentially chase Tendulkar down? He is about to hit the halfway point in terms of number of games in the head-to-head comparison, yet is ahead of schedule in terms of output. He has only missed two Test matches since his debut, while a decision at some stage along the line to focus solely on the longest format of the game could extend his Test career even further. 

Such talk of individual records is likely to be of little concern for the man himself, though. Reaching 100 Tests is an impressive achievement for Root, who will hope it is not his last century in the months to come. 

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