December 17, 2016 12:43:09 am
WHEN WAS the last time a batsman prepared for a Test match with some gully cricket? The answer is maybe never. Or let’s say especially not on the eve of the match. Well this wasn’t really a gully in the real sense of the word. It was a cemented pathway within the confines of the MA Chidambaram Stadium, behind the Madras Cricket Club (MCC) entrance.
It’s an eight-second clip with Joe Root playing a trademark back-foot punch to a tennis ball that’s been chucked at him by batting coach Mark Ramprakash. Not surprisingly, it took a little time for the clip to go viral once the official England Cricket handle- tweeted it with the caption ‘No nets, no problem. Joe Root will practice anywhere’. On the face of it, it looked like one of those insouciant videos. But a day later, England’s batting mainstay revealed that there was a lot more purpose to the unusual practice routine and that if anything he was trying to stay shy of the cameras, but in vain.
“My feet were all over the place in Mumbai against the seamers. I wanted to iron a few things out. We tried the tennis courts, we tried to do that away from the cameras, to be honest, in case it went pear-shaped,” he said.
“Obviously the nets weren’t ready and it was the only surface we could find. A few of the local guys helped and we got a few of the things sorted. It was nice to have that peace of mind going into today (Friday)… .just being able to not worry about any technical issues,” he added, referring to the lack of practice facilities at the ground owing to the destruction caused by Cyclone Vardah.
And Root was all at ease when he went past the half-century mark in the 11th straight Test against India. But it was also the umpteenth occasion in the series where he failed to convert a promising start into a significant score. He’d gotten out after scoring 53, 78 and 77 in Vizag, Mohali and Mumbai and he added an 88 to that ‘flattered to deceive’ collection of scores.
Though he got out to spin in both innings at Wankhede, he was edgy on occasions while facing Umesh Yadav in particular. There was an inside-edge in the first innings while one flew to the boundary off his outside-edge in the second-innings. Facing a tennis-ball on a cement track was an attempt to get his feet into position against deliveries that jump at him. It seemed to work as Root was decisive as ever against pace and spin at Chepauk on a pitch that demanded him to be. “We and Ramps targeted for about half an hour and some things just clicked into place and felt good and we are into today. It was just nice to clear my head and be clear going into Friday,” he said.
Despite being England’s most consistent batsmen over the last couple of years, the inability to go past the finishing line and notch up a three-figure score has become a bugbear for Root. But when asked about it, he insisted on not planning to change anything about his game. And why should he, considering he’s gone well past over 1000 runs in the previous two years. But taking his game to the street was a ploy that was as much to do with working on a slight technical glitch as it was with clearing his head.
According to Root, his half-hour of gully cricket felt like ‘going back to being a kid again’. “You think about how lucky we are with the kind of practice facilities with everything we get in international cricket.
So go back to being a kid again, remember what it’s like to play on the street. It’s one of the reasons why you look to get into cricket,” he said.
“It’s just pressure and thinking about the game, so just enjoy batting again. That feeling, relaxed me. I don’t think I am going to do that again anytime soon if there are wickets available but it was quite nice to do that,” he added.
Root’s innings did end with a tinge of controversy. He was eventually given out caught-behind off Ravindra Jadeja while attempting a sweep. But on-field umpire Marais Erasmus hadn’t spotted the edge and turned down the appeal from Jadeja & Co.
While Parthiv Patel didn’t seem confident, it was Virat Kohli and Jadeja who decided to stick to their conviction and opt for a referral. While UltraEdge did show a spike or distortion, there did seem to be a tiny gap between the ball and bat. But the bat, which did subsequently hit the ground, at that moment was in the air. And third-umpire Bruce Oxenford probably had no choice but to decipher and decide that the ball could have touched nothing except the bat. A peeved Root was visibly upset when Erasmus reversed his decision and sent him on his way. He left shaking his head and even vented his frustration by kicking the boundary cushions before entering the dressing-room.
Later, Root described his reaction as ‘childish’ he sounded convinced that his bat hadn’t touched the ball.
“I was not convinced I hit it. Obviously technology suggested otherwise but it’s disappointing when you are convinced that there’s nothing. I mean look at the keeper’s reaction he was not interested either, it was one of those where Kohli just went with his gut and it went in his favour…but it is what it is and move on,” he said.
Root wasn’t too far off the mark with regards to the wicket-keeper’s reaction anyway, at least on the basis of the conversation between Patel and Kohli that was caught on the live feed of the match via the stump-microphone. “Yaar itna edge laga, tujhe pata nahi laga,” Kohli is heard asking Patel to which he responds, “Mujhe laga bat zameen pe laga hai.” Jadeja then joins the chat insisting that he was close to being right with an earlier call for DRS—an lbw appeal against Ali. The ball-tracker though showed the ball striking the pad well outside the off-stump. Kohli is then heard categorically dismissing Jadeja with a “hattt…” before happily announcing “DRS sahi ho gayee bhai…” followed by laughter and cheers.
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