After Joe Root wandered back in at Lord’s two Saturdays ago on 180 not out, the Wisden Cricket Monthly editor, Phil Walker, described him as “strumming” his second century of the series. When Root went to three in a row at Headingley the next Friday, he was absolutely strumming them. England’s captain has never looked as relaxed; all smiles and easy drives, no need to launch at the bowling, just serenely nodding it away, closing his eyes here and there for an especially enjoyable chord. This was batting to a rhythm section led by Charlie Watts.
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Since his two huge innings in Sri Lanka in January, cricket badgers have been tracking Root as a chance to score the most Test runs ever in a year. The statistical Everest to climb is Mohammad Yousuf’s tally of 1,788, set in 2006. Root has 1,398 this year with a possible five matches to come. But as Leeds unfolded, it was special to see the list of names that Root passed along the way.
Before that innings, he was 41st all time for runs in a year. In the course of scoring 121 runs that afternoon, Root climbed that list to 17th. Scanning past such a list tends to be abstract, a flash of numbers and names. Great stories are reduced to entries, signposts rather than artworks. To understand Root’s achievement more fully, it was worth pausing along the way.