England captain Joe Root reeled off another superb century to crown his 100th Test appearance in style on day one of his side’s series opener against India.
Root arrived at his milestone appearance in wonderful form, with masterful knocks of 228 and 186 in his previous two outings against Sri Lanka, and he was untouchable once more as he rose to the occasion.
That the special moment arrived in a deserted stadium, due to unavoidable Covid restrictions, was a shame but one that was easily mitigated by the fact that it unfolded on free-to-air television.
With Channel 4 returning to the Test cricket fray for the first time since the 2005 Ashes, this was Root’s first ever innings in front of a terrestrial audience and the 30-year-old put his best foot forward for any newcomers.
His efforts helped England to 227 for two, having arrived at the crease with just 63 on the board before the lunch break. Opener Dom Sibley was a steadfast foil at the other end, grinding out a methodical and invaluable 83 not out as the pair shared a stand of 165 and counting.
Both sides were keen to make first use of what was widely expected to be the best batting conditions of the match, but it was Root who called correctly.
A minor miscalculation almost saw Rory Burns fall at the start of the second over, stepping across his stumps and flicking fine around pad only for Rishabh Pant to let the half-chance slip. The wicketkeeper’s glovework is under near constant scrutiny in India and an early blemish, no matter how tough, will not have helped.
That proved a solitary scare in the opening 90 minutes, with England happy to sit in on a flat surface. The runs trickled rather than flowed, but Sibley was reassuringly secure after his struggles against spin in Sri Lanka.
He was firm in defence on the front foot and when the chance came to score he did – steering Ravichandran Ashwin to third man for four, pushing him through mid-wicket for another and later cutting a short one from Shahbaz Nadeem.
While he showed no inclination to go quickly – reaching lunch with just 26 to his name – Burns decided to make his move in the 24th over, flipping the bat and swishing in cavalier fashion in a bid to open up the field. Instead the ball looped off his front hand and straight to Pant. It was an aberration of a shot in conditions that reward patience and certainty.
It is one he has rarely filled at county level and proved too great an ask here, as a big slice of reverse swing from Jasprit Bumrah had the Essex prospect plumb lbw for nought.
Root contrived to involve himself in a run-out scare moments before lunch, underlining the growing unease, and would have been happy to reach the break without further damage at 67 for two.
The hard work continued with just 24 runs in the first hour of the afternoon’s play as India dried up the scoring options meticulously. Root was stuck for a while on 11, during which he had three dicey moments against Ishant Sharma. After chopping past his off stump, surviving an lbw shout and toe-ending one in front of slip he finally got moving again.
A gentle 10-over burst from Nadeem and Washington Sundar allowed England to top up their total with minimal risk, Root driving his first boundary after 55 deliveries then nailing a reverse sweep.
Sibley, meanwhile, picked his moments to meet the pitch of the ball, working around his front pad to pick gaps at mid-wicket and crunching one full-blooded sweep.
A single got him to a well-earned 50, with Root catching up quickly as he lashed Ashwin for successive boundaries on either side of the wicket.
The evening session belonged to Root, who raced beyond Sibley’s score and kept progressing through the gears. The sweep shots he relied on in Galle last month were out in force now, hammered in front of square or tickled fine as the ball demanded. Rarely, if ever, did contact come from anywhere other than the middle of the bat.
There was a switch hit too, a relatively new addition to an already vast armoury, and an on-the-up drive off the tiring Bumrah. Root breezed through the 90s before tickling the single he needed to reach three figures, skipping past Sibley and punching the air before taking in a standing ovation from the away dressing room.