A gem destined to be lost in the annals

Shortly after the new year, Wisden released their rankings for top five Test innings of 2022. There were five spots but only three names – perhaps a surprise, unless you’d witnessed Jonny Bairstow’s extraordinary summer firsthand. Risabh Pant and Abdullah Shafique were the others to join the Yorkshireman in what I reckon was a pretty just adjudication.

There are, of course, players who might feel somewhat aggrieved at being ignored (Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Babar Azam, Dinesh Chandimal and Pant’s knock at Edgbaston spring to mind) but in all honesty such a list is almost entirely subjective. I don’t envy those who attempt to compile such things so, instead of trying to pick faults, I found myself considering the innings that I would class as my personal favorite from the year. With each Test match offering up to 40 opportunities for this particular distinction and a total of 43 matches over the course of the year, there were a fair few efforts to choose from.

My chosen innings is perhaps surprising in that it wasn’t the highest score in its match, nor even the most memorable. Neither was it the highest knock of the batter’s career or probably even their best of the year, and as such it’s likely that it’s destined to fall from the cricketing consciousness before long to be lost in the annals of the game.

The innings that I’m speaking of is Joe Root’s 176 at Trent Bridge – a match that is rightfully remembered for England’s brutal chase in the fourth innings, Bairstow’s magnum opus, and Daryl Mitchell’s heroic, if ultimately futile, efforts. Yet for one last time, before this particular innings slips from the cricketing conversation, I’d like to pay tribute to Root at his shrewd, mischievous, disdainful best.

It was only the third time he’d strapped on his pads since stepping down from the captaincy and you would imagine that, for most players, the emotional fallout from such a decision might still be a little tender. But seemingly not for Root. He entered this match on the back of a match winning fourth innings hundred – an innings in which he became only the second Englishman to pass 10,000 Test match runs, won England their first match in nine attempts, and did so just fast enough for the crowd to receive a full refund for the final day’s play. Most importantly, it was performance that returned his trademark grin, the burden of captaincy seemingly a distant memory.

On to Nottingham then and a bit of a return to reality for the fans. A New Zealand first innings total of 550+ seemed a steep hill to climb for a batting unit only a few months on from Boland’s 6 for 7 at the Gee, and nerves weren’t eased as Crawley trudged off the field in only the second over .

But Pope and Lees restored some faith – their 141 run partnership setting a decent platform for England’s star man. In fact, it’s one of the best he’s ever had. Until the 2022 tour to Pakistan he’d never come in at number 4 with England’s total at 160 or better. Even so, as Root entered the fray, reaching a competitive total (let alone parity) still seemed a long way off. Then he and Pope got to work.

When they joined each other at the crease, Pope was already three quarters of the way to his second Test century – one that Root seemed intent on beating him to – and they continued in this fashion through most of the afternoon.

I wasn’t able to watch the majority of the partnership live, unfortunately, so instead I spent the afternoon eagerly refreshing the ESPN CricInfo commentary. Each update brought a small shake of the head and a wry grin of my own as the total ballooned in double quick time.

Root’s hundred came off only 116 balls, his fastest in Tests, and he didn’t stop there. After losing Pope, he played second fiddle for ten overs or so, first to Bairtsow then to Stokes, before going back on the charge as England ran out of specialist batters. He reached the close of play with 163* from an even 200 balls. England were miraculously within touching distance of New Zealand’s score having plundered nearly 400 runs in the day. The platform well and truly set for the fireworks that would follow two days later.

The following morning would see him add 14 more to his overnight score. Six of which came from the first of his three reverse scoop maximums that summer – truly outrageous Test match batting.

And that’s why this knock is so special. To me, it was the quintessential Joe Root innings. Vital in the context of the match, England would have had absolutely no chance without it. But it was also arguably England’s greatest modern batter, unshackled, unburdened, and expressing himself in a way that only Root can do.

Joe cut, flicked, dabbed, pulled, drove, swept, punched, scooped, flashed and glanced England back into the match. Front foot, back foot, skipping down the track – wherever the gap was, he knew how to find it. It’s rare to see him nail a drive right to extra cover or cut one straight to backward point, because he does not bludgeon. he threads. Watching a player of such class in this type of form is just about as good as it gets. There simply aren’t enough fielders.

Two shots in particular really stand out. That both are examples of my favorite stroke may not come as a surprise, but it seems to me that the on drive becomes that much more pleasing when classical technique is left behind. When one of the hardest shots in the game is reduced to pure, effortless, KP-like timing. Southee was the unfortunate recipient of both – the first in the 63rd over, the second in the 108th, and I’d advise you to seek them out on the ECB’s YouTube channel. They are glorious.

It wasn’t a chanceless innings, though. One flashed high through the slips early on – tough chance, tougher miss. The hundred, too, came from an ugly chop behind the stumps, not too far from playing on. But isn’t that just the Rootian way – a batter equally as capable of sublime brilliance as he is of playing a loose drive when he looks set. Just look at his returns from that recent tour of Pakistan.

Thats not meant as a knock against him. He is not the eccentric metronome that Smith is, nor the demonstrative textbook model that Kohli is. Joe is resplendent, joyous, and occasionally susceptible to nicking off in an untimely manner.

Yes, Root has played more faultless innings on much worse tracks. He’s also played more memorable innings in a higher profile series. In fact, this might well have been his third most memorable ton of the summer. But in twenty years time, if someone asked me to describe Joe Root the batter, I don’t think you could do much better than to point them towards this innings. It displayed his full repertoire – along with the joyful grin – and embodied the very essence of the man that English cricket has relied on more than any other for a decade now. Therefore, I believe it deserves one last moment of appreciation before it becomes just another statistic on his impressive cricketing CV.

I would love to hear what your favorite innings of 2022 was (and the reasons why). So if you share my opinion or have a different knock in mind – or even just think my thoughts above are a load of drivel – please let me know below.

Jack Surtees

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