Joe Root, Mohammad Abbas and the Danish Pastry of smiles

SMIZE: to smile with your eyes, a la Joe Root and Abbas
SMIZE: to smile with your eyes, a la Joe Root and Abbas
Harigovind Sankar

After Azhar Ali sent down his infernal snake ball that siphoned the light of a million fairies into Rose Bowl, we were not done yet. Joe Root wants a private moment with Pakistani banana-swinger Mohammad Abbas. They meet centre-pitch.

Joe Root radiates a fullsome smile (that for another bloke would sliver the skin and spring streams of blood and warp them permanently) and Abbas returning it, one caricaturing George Bailey and the other fluttering hands mid-air, explaining the concept of Unagi.

If it lasted for an eternity, it wouldn’t be as cool. Abbas and Root break off after a mere five seconds, but in that twinkling of stars, they’d exchanged garlands.

For Joe Root, the prematurely happy man, every road is a rosy road. If myths are to be facts, when he was born, the nurses that delivered him dropped him because he was cackling like a georgebush head.

After a Jos Buttler classic, he chortles like a senator watching the news. He is the master of the childish laugh, the hangdog laugh, the serene laugh, the ultracrepidarian laugh, the jejune laugh or the numinous laugh.

But each of it is dispensed in quantums. Joe Root picks out the moment, big or small, mega or mini, before doling out his pure, unbridled smile, involuntarily. You won't see him smiling at a bird, or the dumpster, for instance. His smile is real and Duchenne, so you need to wait for the moment that deserves it.

And somehow, some-frigging-how, each instant after every ball in Abbas’s final over is cherry-picked for it, like a miraculous coincidence from Broadway. This is the moment when he chooses to employ it, and he's doing that in plenty. He smiles through his hair, ball after ball, luxuriatingly, like feasting on a Danish pastry.

Anything that happened on this day was meant to be inconsequential. The result was a foregone conclusion, and if anything, it was only a free net against international bowlers. That must’ve precisely been what Root told his batsmen too, at the start of play. But before Zak Crawley is dismissed by a vicious in-seamer, Abbas has already induced three misses and an edge.

The spices, the ripples you need. That does not even include his second spell in which he inveigles Joe Root and Jos Buttler into five false shots, including the wicket of Dom Sibley. Once he even stares Root down, but the English captain is intent on enjoying the moment.

Meanwhile, Joe Root is trying to take every detour on the way: he stands outside his crease by a mouth-numbing length, nearly prompting the keeper a shy at the stumps and skips down the track as the bowler approaches the crease to tackle the seam. As if that was nothing, he splits his body momentum, lunging outside off-stump with every skip.

For a moment Abbas must've considered firing one down leg. And despite all the theatrics, he swings, misses; swings, misses; swings, misses; casting a motley concoction of smiles on his face.

Batting in England is as hard as eating vegetables. You have the constant, continuous beak of previous balls pecking you, a ghastly feeling of an unknown something draining out of your body and weighing you down with it. The ball doesn’t even swing any more, it seams.

It swerves so fickly off the surface to whichever-side-God-knows, like a classical politician. The easiest (yet hardest) way to put that behind is to take your cap off and curtsey to the bowler, and Joe Root could not have known that better.

Yet, looking at Joe Root, you knew that none of it was fake. Curtsies work when and only when you are honest with yourself, and for Root they did; at the end of the day the meme whirling around on social media was Joe Root carrying his bat.

In a game that philanders with clapbacks and retorts, Joe Root’s was not a furtive peek into the armoury of a player that had him on his knees, but a rhetorical jab from one top player to another. It is part of being Joe Root, of enjoying cricket as much as success.

On a day as this when only a handful of overs were possible, the little things are meant to take centrestage. But for an evanescent cake as today's, the nickname ‘little things’ just do not do justice.

It gave us a handy shufti into the thoughts of a world-class player, the astute art of failing failure and a reason not to hate this game that has been like a grumpy matron of late. Ultimately, it showed us why Joe Root was as good as Abbas.

Edited by Bhargav


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