Joe Root's knock of 73 may not, once it is committed to the annals, sound like an overwhelming innings, but context is everything, and the omens are pretty good too.
The last England cricketer to make his debut in Nagpur was also a 21-year-old batsman, and after a half-century in his first innings (and a ton in his second), it's fair to say that Alastair Cook has gone on to enjoy a half-decent Test career.
On the evidence of this knock, Root possesses some of the tenacity and determination that has helped Cook ascend to the captaincy.
He is normally a more aggressive player, but tucked away his more expansive strokes to simply endure on a difficult pitch. There were just four boundaries in his 229-ball vigil, but he helped steer his side from a wobbly 119 for four to a total of 330, which now looks to be a score from which the match can be controlled.
How exactly did he do it? Root, a diminutive and fresh-faced 21, batted with the thou-shalt-not-pass obduracy of Geoffrey Boycott, his fellow Yorkshireman. For a man whose technique has drawn comparisons with another Yorkie, the elegant opener Michael Vaughan, it was an exercise in restraint. If he has taken on board the lessons that Test cricket is as much about what you don't do as it is what you do do, and that attitude matters as much as talent over five long days.
It was a brave call from the selectors to include him. He has had limited cricket since the series started, although a 166 for the England Performance Programme side in between the second and third Tests cannot have done his cause any harm. But nonetheless, to get the nod he has had to rise above several rivals. Jonny Bairstow played ahead of him earlier in the series and now finds himself behind in the pecking order. Samit Patel has threatened to make scores batting at six, and it would have been easier to give him one last chance in a winning side. But the selectors have identified something about Root which meant they felt his inclusion could not wait.
They have been vindicated. There were purring noises among the press corps comparing him to the likes of Michael Atherton and Greg Chappell.
All of this is desperately premature, of course — Root has not been tested out against the short ball yet, or the vicious swinging delivery, or even in situations such as the pressure-cooker that is a full house at the MCG. Runs in the first innings of your international career don't guarantee success — nor did Marvan Atapattu let the start of his Test career (he scored 0, 0, 0, 1, 0 and 0 in his first six innings for Sri Lanka) prevent him from going on to represent his country in 90 matches.
We shall see how it pans out — but we have at least been tantalised, given a glimpse of a player with promise and depth.
And although he has been until this point an opener, Root has surely booked himself an extended run at the number six position for his country.
Since Paul Collingwood retired at the end of the 2010/11 Ashes, England have struggled to fill the gap. Ian Bell took his place at five, and Eoin Morgan, Ravi Bopara, Jonny Bairstow, James Taylor and Samit Patel have all been handed chances at six, only to fluff their lines.
Root's place may one day be partnering Cook at the top of the order, but while the spot is free, he has a chance to prove his versatility as well as his run-scoring capabilities.
The selectors have made some questionable calls in recent times — the team that took the field for Ahmedabad perhaps the pinnacle — but the England set-up deserve credit for smoothing Root's passage into the first team.
The EPP team has bridged the gap between county and first-class cricket, taking the most talented youngsters in the game and exposing them to tough tours and excellent coaches, such as Graham Thorpe, who is believed to have been a big advocate of Root's promotion.
Of course, the domestic game also deserves plenty of credit for churning out players who are immediately ready for Test matches. There is often no painful acclimatisation, no lack of exposure to conditions or pressure. Nick Compton, the tour's other debutant, has not looked out of his depth in this series. In their own debut matches, Cook (60 and 104), Trott (41 and 119), Pietersen (57 and 64*), Bell (70) and Prior (126* and 21) all hit the ground running.
Root may go on to have a successful career, he may flatter to deceive. But it is hard not to be encouraged by the pool of young talent coming through the English game at present.
- Sports & Recreation
- Joe Root
- Alastair Cook