World Cup 2019: The artistry of Joe Root comes to the fore in match of big hitters
The hype was high. After two rained out matches, the World Cup 2019 was getting back on track on a sunny day, with a flat and hard pitch. This was a match of the big hitters.
It was the power-packed West Indies versus the rampaging England. The West Indians have a top 8 of Chris Gayle, Evin Lewis, Shai Hope, Nicholas Pooran, Shimron Hetmyer, Jason Holder, Andre Russell and Carlos Brathwaite. Big hitting lineups don't get more big hitting than this.
On the other hand, England, led brilliantly by Eoin Morgan since the last World Cup, are the only team to have a run rate of more than 6 per over in the preceding four years. Virat Kohli, in the pre-tournament presser, mentioned that England were looking to score 500 in ODIs. And this match-up, against a team of comparable firepower, promised staggering fireworks.
But when the West Indies innings ended, all the big hitters were laid to rest. Gayle scored a run-of-the-mill 36, Lewis 2, Hope 11, Hetmyer 39, Pooran a fine 63 to hold the WI innings together, Holder 9, Russell 21 and Brathwaite 14. There was not a single century and not a single innings that made you gasp in awe of the six-hitting prowess of these talented West Indians.
To even things out a bit, Jason Roy and Eoin Morgan were both injured and in doubt of getting a bat. This meant England had to try out a new opener to partner Jonny Bairstow.
It was Joe Root who walked out at the start. This was a gamble taken by England as it made their lineup top-heavy, with two of the remaining batsmen in doubt of even batting. A few quick wickets and it could have been curtains.
Bairstow started off quicker of the two openers, partly by chance and partly by design, to ease his new opening partner into the role. It didn't take Root much time to catch up. For each boundary that Bairstow bashed to the fence, there was a caress from Root that ran equally quickly across the ropes.
The West Indians were bombarding the batsmen with short pitched bowling, a strategy they had adopted with great success against Australia. In fact, one ball from Andre Russell hit Bairstow on the helmet, and the force of the delivery was so strong that Russell himself fell over after delivering it and injured his knee in the process.
At the other end, there was no such drama. Every ball that the bowlers pitched up, Root drove with pure timing. He ended up scoring exactly 100, almost half the score. Of these, only 44 were in boundaries, so he ran 56 runs - which was an aberration to the mood of this match.
But as Ravi Shastri would say, this was exactly what the doctor ordered for England - as it gave them the stability and confidence of playing risk-free cricket and still winning with ease.
With a spate of T20s being played all around the world, this is rightly called the era of the big hitters. You see matches turn in an over, momentum changing in a few balls, and bowlers psyched out by monster hits.
But as Root proved today, there are days when the big hitter faces the artist, and the artist wins. And it gladdens the heart.