London: Joe Root’s unbeaten 178 left Australia needing to make cricket history if they were to prevent England going 2-0 up with three to play in the Ashes.
England were 333 for five in their second innings, a colossal lead of 566 runs, at stumps on the third day of the second Test at Lord’s on Saturday.
Root’s century, the second of his eight-match Test career, was exactly the kind of large or ‘daddy hundred’ so beloved of England batting coach and former Test opener Graham Gooch.
Ashes-holders England lost just two wickets in a near-ideal day for the hosts and, with so much time left in the match, the lack of a declaration from captain Alastair Cook was no surprise.
Long before Saturday’s close, Australia needed to surpass the world record fourth innings winning total of 418 for seven made by the West Indies against them at St John’s in 2002/03 if they were to cause a stunning upset.
Given Australia were bowled out for just 128 in their first innings, their prospects were decidedly unpromising.
This was the 22-year-old Root’s first Test hundred as an opener after the Yorkshireman made 104 against New Zealand as a middle-order batsman on his Headingley home ground in May.
That century, in a match in which then Test opener Nick Compton struggled, persuaded England to promote Root to the top of the order, where he bats for Yorkshire.
The selectors’ confidence in Root’s temperament and ability was justified by an innings spanning 110 overs and nearly eight hours at the crease that was a lesson in Test-match batting to Australia’s fallible top order.
Importantly, Root was not fazed by watching England collapse to 30 for three on Friday as Peter Siddle’s treble strike gave Australia a glimmer of hope.
Together with Yorkshire colleague Tim Bresnan, who made an admirable 38 as nightwatchman, he put on 99 before sharing a fifth-wicket stand of 153 with first-innings century-maker Ian Bell (74).
Jonny Bairstow, another Yorkshireman, was 11 not out at stumps after helping Root add an unbroken 51 for the sixth wicket.
England, 1-0 up in the five-match series after last week’s 14-run victory at Trent Bridge, resumed Saturday on 31 for three, already 264 runs in front.
Root, 18 not out overnight, eased the first ball, from Siddle, through midwicket for four. After two days of blazing sunshine, conditions were overcast for the first time and offering a hint of swing.
Root, however, drove James Pattinson through the covers for four. And when Root reached 70, he became the first batsman this English season to score 1,000 first-class runs.
Bresnan batted solidly for more than three hours until he pulled a Pattinson bouncer straight to Chris Rogers in front of square.
In a series already full of Decision Review System controversies, there was one more added Saturday when Bell, on three, edged Ryan Harris low towards Steven Smith at gully.
Smith appealed immediately for a catch but, with the umpires and Bell uncertain, the decision was passed to third umpire Tony Hill.
As is often the case, replays were inconclusive and the verdict went Bell’s way.
At tea, Root was 97 not out. But he betrayed no sign of the nervous 90s and soon after the interval cut teenage left-arm spinner Ashton Agar for his 12th four to complete a chanceless 247-ball hundred.
Root, in a perfectly paced innings, then upped the tempo with a succession of stylish boundaries.
Bell fell when he pulled Smith straight to Rogers at midwicket but Root put the leg-spinner in his place by pulling him for two sixes in three balls.
Meanwhile, Cricket Australia chiefs were forced to investigate an obscene message on the organisation’s official Twitter feed which slammed a controversial decision to give England star Ian Bell not out during the second Test at Lord’s on Saturday. Australia thought they had dismissed Bell for just three runs before tea on the third day when Steve Smith claimed a catch at gully off Ryan Harris.
But Bell believed there was some doubt as to whether the ball had reached Smith on the full and stood his ground.
The on-field umpires called for the third umpire Tony Hill to adjudicate and he decided there was too much uncertainty to award the catch.
Soon after, a crudely-phrased tweet appeared on CA’s official feed, reading: “That decision sucked ass #bull****”.
It was swiftly removed by CA’s media team at Lord’s, and an investigation has been launched.
“Apologies for the inappropriate tweet earlier regarding the Bell catch. It didn’t emanate from CA’s official Twitter presence at Lord’s,” read a later message on the account.
“CA is currently investigating the matter.”