Kolkata: When Joe Root lands in Chennai on Wednesday, with 426 runs in the bag from just two Tests in Sri Lanka, he is likely to stoke the embers of the old debate of ‘greatest Test batsman’ during the four-Test series against India.
A eternally favourite subject for the cricket lovers, the storm in the tea cup used to revolve between the ‘Big Three’ of Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Joe Root, but the New Zealand captain Kane Williamson has pushed his claim in no uncertain terms with some epic efforts against Pakistan in their recently concluded series. The affable New Zealander is, in fact, perched at the top of the heap with two Australians Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne at number two and three, respectively, while Kohli is at number four and Root is at five.
With the World Test Championship final later this year also giving the duel for top batsman’s slot a context, Root - now 30 - seemed determined to make up for some lost time during the two Tests in the island nation. It was at Galle on Sunday that he overtook David Gower (8231 runs) and Kevin Pietersen (8181), two of England’s most influential batsman and is now fourth in his country’s alltime list with an aggregate of 8238 runs in 180 innings. A day earlier, he had overhauled Sir Geoff Boycott’s tally of 8114 runs - a feat which received wholesome praise from the taciturn former England opener.
Former captain Alastair Cook is the all-time highest rungetter for England with 12,472 Test runs in 161 matches he played, followed by Graham Gooch on 8,900 runs. Alec Stewart comes third in the list with 8,463 runs.
It was Root all the way in both the Test matches in Galle as he followed up his epic effort of 228 in the first Test with a masterclass of 186, which helped him finish with an average of 106.50. Incidentally, it was only after Marcus Trescothick in 2005 that any England batsman had scored 150-plus runs in back-to-back Tests.
What’s more, his consistency evoked comparisons with the way the great Brian Lara last dominated a series in Sri Lanka in 2001 though his run of scores were enough more awesome - 178, 40, 74. 45, 221, 130.
When at his prime, Root is certainly as pleasing to the eye as Williamson - and it was amply evident with his gift of timing and the decisiveness with which he took on the Sri Lankan spinners. The job will be tougher on the slender shoulders of Root in the upcoming series, given India’s awesome record at home and the fact they will be back in full strength with Kohli once again at the helm of affairs.
The Indian captain, who for the first time since his debut in international cricket in 2011, ended 2020 without a century - had looked in command in the first innings of the Adelaide Test in Australia before hell broke loose in the second and they were all out for 36. Back in India since then for his ‘paternal leave,’ Kohli will be fresh and keen to make the most of the Indian conditions at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai and the cavernous Motera Stadium which will make it’s ‘debut.’
A tricky problem for Root will be that the tourists will be without Jonny Bairstow for the first two Tests of the four-match series and Jos Buttler for the final three as the selectors continue to rotate their multi-format players in a busy year of 17 Test matches and the T20 World Cup.
The tourists, will, however be boosted by the return of allrounder Ben Stokes and fast bowler Jofra Archer for the India series after they were rested against Sri Lanka. “Any captain will tell you they want their best players fit, firing and at the top of their game all the time. Unfortunately, because of the world we are in right now it’s not feasible and we have to manage that as best we can,’’ Root said after their whitewash of Sri Lanka.
England lost 4-0 on their most recent visit to India in 2016 while the hosts are toasting a stunning 2-1 series win in Australia. “We have four very important games against arguably the best team in the world in their own conditions,’’ Root said.
“We are going to have to play right at the top of our game to win but we couldn’t be in a better place to go and challenge them. That really excites me and should excite the rest of the group as well. There is so much further this group can go, we just have to stay hungry.”
A cracker of a series is then on the cards, with the Kohli-Root battle as one of the more intriguing sub-plots.