Joe Root punched the air, removed his helmet and kissed the badge. His 17th Test century had been a long time coming. But he had been true to his word.
Ever since arriving in New Zealand, England’s captain has insisted he was on the brink of something big after an Ashes summer in which four half-centuries jostled with three ducks for supremacy. Another failure here, and his claim might have taken its place in the drawer marked ‘press-conference cliches’.
Instead, on a day when opener Rory Burns made his second Test hundred before being infuriatingly run out, Root showed his inexperienced team how he expects them to bat.
Joe Root kissing his helmet after scoring a century for England on day three of the second test
At 259 balls and a minute shy of six hours, this was the slowest of his England centuries. More importantly, it was a model of patience and restraint, and the perfect retort to his two dismissals during England’s innings defeat during the first Test, which he described as ‘horrendous’.
Despite a very English wobble, with the prospect of a decent lead yielding to the fall of three wickets for 61 either side of tea, Root had given his side a chance. And at the start of the third morning, there had appeared very little of that.
Above all, Root was damned if he was going to give New Zealand a sniff, not after watching them grind his bowlers into the Mount Maunganui dust for 201 overs.
New Zealand wicketkeeper BJ Watling drops the ball as Root reaches his century at Hamilton
He added 44 to his overnight six during an extended morning session, 34 between lunch and tea, and another 30 by the time rain ended play an hour early, with England 269 for five in reply to New Zealand’s 375.
It did not set pulses racing, but Root’s England have had enough of that these past few years, both for good and ill. Instead, on a slow, lifeless Seddon Park surface, he slowed his heart-rate and waited for New Zealand to come to him. Expertly he picked them off, mainly on the leg side, which had produced 73 of his 114 runs by stumps. It was batting as accumulation, self-denial over self-expression.
Ever since replacing Alastair Cook as captain in 2017, Root has craved the aura that came so naturally to his predecessor – that of role model, setter of examples. Yet this was his first hundred in his team’s first innings for 30 Tests, stretching back to the day/night game against West Indies at Edgbaston in 2017.
It very nearly didn’t happen. After moving to 99 with a glance for four off Neil Wagner, he almost chopped the next ball on to his stumps, only to see it bounce into the turf behind him, over the gloves of BJ Watling and