Placed third in Wisden’s Test innings of the year list – part of the 2021 year in Review series – is Joe Root’s 109 at Trent Bridge.

Joe Root 109 (172)

England v India, 1st Test
Trent Bridge, Nottingham
August 4-8, 2021

It took three balls for Joe Root to show what mood he was in. Mohammed Siraj, India’s shiny new race-car of a bowler, hurled a length ball wide of the off stump, inviting – hopefully enticing – Root to stretch out his left foot. England were 47-2, their trail one run more than their total. Zak Crawley had just been dismissed fishing outside off to Jasprit Bumrah. Another miscalculated drive would have possibly meant curtains for England.

But this was Joe Root. In a year of extremes that saw him conquer previously uncharted personal glories, he had been a tattered England’s single ray of hope. By the time he came to Trent Bridge, he’d already hit three Test centuries – including two double tons – in 2021. But those had come in the subcontinent, relying on Root’s well-known proficiency against spin. The previous few years had seen a diminishing of the Root aura, with a gentle overall decline pockmarked with big scores on flat tracks overseas. This was the kind of situation in which he hadn’t been making statement scores. This was the one question left to answer.

Back to the ball. There was no loose waft, no half-minded prod. Out came a clean, cracking cover drive that sounded like a cracked whip. “Don’t think Siraj would be too disappointed,” said Michael Holding on air, “that’s what you would want batsmen doing, playing away from the body”. The usual fundamentals weren’t sticking for Root though.

There was an air of freshness, the quest to score beautiful runs as Dom Sibley arrested the flow at the other end. It wasn’t solely about surviving: England needed runs to stay in the game. “I had a very proactive mindset from the start of the game,” Root later said, “knowing it was going to be challenging – balls in there might have your name on them.”

His second boundary was a thickish edge that pierced the slip cordon off Jasprit Bumrah. Root had a cheeky smile on his face as he glanced at Sibley. You could see that he knew: not every drive would be picturesque, not every run would feel rewarding. The little battles would continue, but the quest won’t stop.

There were little bits of streakiness peppered around: a defended ball nearly plopped onto his stumps, an edge fell short here, an lbw call was overturned there. But nothing stopped Root from merrily scoring, the drives oozing out of his bat as England cleared their arrears.

A restive period of play ended with an audacious uppercut over the slip fielders, handing him his fifty off 68 balls. He’d kept the tempo up, ensuring that England didn’t sink into a rut. Anything straying on his body from India’s four-man pace attack was neatly flicked away. Anything remotely worthy of being driven was punished with aplomb, unbothered by the manner in which his partners edged and perished at the other end.

England lost two wickets when Root was still in his 90s; the edgy period even saw India take another lbw review against him when on 97. Sam Curran’s breezy introduction at the other end brought some fluency though, helping him push past the three-figure mark. He took 28 deliveries to move from 90 to 100, but when it came, there was a roar of applause.

Root drilled Thakur down the ground midway through the 75th over, sprinting with his hands raised in ecstasy as the ball passed mid-on. Crossing him, Curran – the only other batter to cross 32 – punched the air in celebration too, signifying how much that meant for the team as a whole. At a personal level though, it ended Root’s century-less home drought that had stretched for 25 innings.

It was the new ball that ultimately brought Root’s end, but not before he’d resurrected England, carrying them from the pits of a heavy defeat towards an outside chance of survival. The innings truly encapsulated the tone of Joe Root’s 2021, a year that repeatedly saw him lift his side’s hopes and spirits amid the deafening gloom around.