Joe Root produced a captain’s innings for the ages and was true to his word when he insisted ‘attack is the best form of defence.’
While England’s batsmen made a sweeping statement, Root reconfirmed his place at the top table of global batsmen with his 15th hundred on Thursday as he pulled the second Test here in Pallekele ever closer towards the tourists’ grasp.
And with his ton coming from just 120 balls he took the game to the Sri Lankan spinners on day three in precisely the way he had asked his team to do on a pitch that retained its spinning demons but was far from the spitting cobra many had predicted.
“You definitely want to lead from the front,” said Root, as a 46-run overnight deficit was turned into a 278-run lead at the close. “When you make a statement about how to play then you feel you have to go and play in that manner.
“I think it suits the group and the players we have and you have to play to your strengths. At times attack is the best form of defence on a wicket like that.
“On difficult surfaces with extreme spin like there is here, you have to be able to put pressure back on the opposition.”
It didn’t matter whether the ball was turning sharply from the straight or the rough, nor did it matter who was bowling and which way they were spinning it, Root was equal to every challenge in a way that only the very best can be.
The subcontinent is not a natural playground for English cricketers who have to leave their comfort zone and learn how to play the game in a different way to the one they have grown up with.
It can make terrific players look silly and it can be a mental challenge that many succumb to, but not Root. Just like the captain before him, he rather enjoys the demands in this part of the world and he put on one heck of a show.
For pure skill and mastery this innings was every bit as good as Kevin Pietersen’s for England here in 2012 when he scored 151 from 165 balls to help level the series in Colombo on a dry,spin-friendly surface.
“I enjoyed myself today,” he said. “There were a few filthy hacks in there, but the way you have to think about batting here and the strategies you need makes it really good fun.
“That is what it should be about, you shouldn’t feel like the pressure is too much for you. You should enjoy the occasion and make the most of the opportunity in front of you.”
Where Root has led many of his team have followed by playing the same expansive style of cricket and using the sweep in a very big way.
Seven out of the nine English wickets to fall were either to the sweep or the reverse-sweep as their batsmen found a formula that brought them success along with their downfall.
The only question was whether they could score enough runs before the inevitable, and in several cases such as Rory Burns’ impressive 59 full of sweeping strokes, his first Test fifty, the answer was yes.
Root added: “We said we were going to play in a certain manner in these conditions and the temptation with a deficit in the second innings is to play within your shell and be insular, but the guys set the tone at the top of the order.
“From my point of view the sweep was almost a safer shot than playing a forward defensive. The amount the ball is turning if you play with a straight bat you feel there is a lot of risk in that.”
England might have had an even better time of it had Burns and Ben Stokes not wasted both reviews on their obvious dismissals, both Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid were fingered in poor umpiring decisions.
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