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Joe Root defies heat, back spasms and Sri Lanka's spinners to keep England alive

Nick Hoult
·5-min read
Joe Root
Joe Root

Joe Root was so tired that England should have arranged for one of the tuk-tuks that chugs past the Galle Stadium and into the fort to ferry him back to the dressing room as he dragged himself off after another marathon innings.

Root’s legs were weary, his whites soaked in sweat and dirt, and his shoulders slumped in exhaustion after he was run out for 186 in a one-man stand that kept England in the Test at 339 for nine.

Root had batted for 309 balls across 495 minutes during which he surpassed Sir Geoffrey Boycott, Kevin Pietersen and David Gower into fourth on England’s all time run scorer’s list.

England's leading Test run-scorers
England's leading Test run-scorers

He combined all three with the stubborn defence of Sir Geoffrey, and intent and timing of Pietersen and Gower, as he single-handedly kept England in the Test match.

With Sri Lanka holding a useful overnight lead of 41, and three wickets falling in the final five overs of the day, the match is bubbling up into a classic.

England depart for India on Wednesday where Root will need reinforcements. He ate a banana and drank an energy gel every 45 minutes, seven of each in all, to stave off cramp, and with the burdens of captaincy to handle too, he cannot carry his team through a tour to India as well.

Root has scored 415 runs in this series; the other 11 players picked by England have mustered 383. Root, up to his dismissal, had been on the field for all but 37 overs of the series; his powers of concentration and stamina remarkable given the heat, pressure of batting against the turning ball with men around the bat, plus the amount of sweeps he played.

Root swept 58 times in this innings (108 in the series), getting right down low each time, stretching that creaky back and springing up again. His busy, proactive batting drained Sri Lanka. He always looked to score hence a series strike-rate of 65 and the fact that he faced 450 balls before playing out a maiden.

Root’s battle with the excellent left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya was fascinating, both giving no ground. Embuldeniya is emerging as a worthy successor to Rangana Herath, his seven for 132 his third five-wicket haul in nine Tests. His accuracy, turn and pace were matched to the surface; an example to England’s spinners.

Joe Root
Joe Root

Footwork has been Root’s distinguishing feature, either forward or back. He defends right under his nose, a walking blueprint for England’s younger batsmen, who have been caught off edges playing too straight and in front of their pad as they would against spin in England.

Against the seamers, Root has started to twirl the bat in his hands as he settles into his stance, an aide de memoire to stay focussed, a nod to his conversion rate of fifties to hundreds.

After his 228 in the first Test and this innings Root’s average is now a touch under 50 again and he went past Graham Gooch’s tally of runs as England captain. Gooch, the batsman who talked of “daddy hundreds”. would approve of Root’s ninth score above 150. For Root, he will be most proud of his consistency. This was the first time he has scored centuries in consecutive Test matches, fulfilling his new year vow of “leading from the front and batting big”.

Buttler quotes
Buttler quotes

He restarted on 67, and was soon sweeping Sri Lanka into submission. His hundred came off 137 balls but it was grind moving from 100 to 150 (it took Root 118 balls) as wickets fell at the other end and Sri Lanka started to nose ahead.

A sweep, naturally, brought up the 150, but Root barely had the energy to raise his bat. He had better things for which to conserve his strength, such as driving Perera for four in the next over through the covers. Root misjudged length for the only time on 172 but the edge so surprised Lahiru Thirimanne at slip that he missed it. Moments later Root top edged a slog sweep as exhaustion started to show. He was soon down on the ground yelping in pain with a back spasm, desperate for the end of play. With minutes to go before the close he was gone, run out in freakish fashion. A clip off his pads was stopped by Oshada Fernando at short leg, who threw down the stumps.

Jonny Bairstow started brutally, hammering Perera down the ground for four but the arm ball from Embuldeniya deceived him ending a 111-run stand for the third wicket.

Dan Lawrence tried to impose himself and was almost stumped on nought before propping forward and edging Embuldeniya to slip on three.

The sweep is a natural shot for Jos Buttler, and he imposed himself quickly. He averages 55 since the start of last summer, and with his keeping in good order too, he looks a better allround cricketer now than at any time during his Test career.

Buttler was off the mark with a reverse sweep, moved into 40s with cover drive off Suranga Lakmal and cut Embuldeniya for four for his 18th Test fifty. Sri Lanka thought Buttler was caught at leg slip via a ricochet off his boot on 26 that was ultimately given not out but a carbon copy, albeit this time held at short leg, gave Ramesh Mendis a maiden Test wicket.

Jos BUttler - Sky Sports
Jos BUttler - Sky Sports

Sam Curran edged a forward defensive off Embuldeniya to slip, and while Dom Bess gutsed it out to support Root for 29 overs adding a vital 81 for the seventh wicket, his dismissal was the start of three wickets in the last five overs as Wood edged to slip and Root was run out for the second successive innings.