South Africa

England in India 2020-21 – Test cricket makes perfect return to free-to-air stage

It was, in the end, the perfect return. After years in hiding, Test cricket peeped out from behind its paywall and proved its charms, like Audrey Hepburn or a trip to Paris, are undimmed by time or fashion.

It’s quite some knack Channel 4 have of picking their games. The last time a day’s Test cricket was broadcast free-to-air in the UK, they showed Kevin Pietersen’s maiden century clinching England a first Ashes series in a generation. On their first day back, a decade-and-a-half later, they showed Joe Root cementing his place among the greats of English cricket with a century that was as beautiful as it was important.

First, the historic element: in the course of this innings, Root became the third England player (after Sir Colin Cowdrey and Alec Stewart) to register a century in their 100th Test and the second (after Sir Alastair Cook) to make three Test centuries in a row in Asia. He took his Test average back above 50 in the process.

More pertinently, Root has given his side a foothold in this game. There’s a lot of cricket to be played in this match and England are not, by any means, out of danger. But by soaking up early pressure and taking his time to build an innings (he scored 12 from his first 54 balls), Root has shown his side how they compete in these conditions. It doesn’t mean they will win, but it shows how they can.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to think a new audience, taking a peek at the game for the first time, may have fallen in love with Root’s cover drives in the same way previous generations did with those of Ian Bell, Graham Thorpe, David Gower and Peter May. And if that shot didn’t grab them, perhaps they would have fallen for the sweeps – be they reverse, slogged or conventional – or a cut so late it had to apologise to all concerned and promise to buy a new alarm clock.

And if they didn’t? Well, maybe cricket isn’t for them. For make no mistake, Root is batting at a level very few can match. Yes, we’ll see more dramatic days. And yes, we’ll see faster rates of scoring. But this was a day which showcased a great player at the peak of his form. And yes, if a new generation are searching for a role-model, they could do a lot worse than England’s Test captain. This was a very good day for English cricket.

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