Joe Root finds frustration again in his search for Test perfection

Cricket - India v England - Fifth Test cricket match

If Joe Root was just a regular batsman he would look back on 2016 with little but fondness, having scored more heavily in Test cricket than ever before and during this time produced a career-best score of 254 against Pakistan in the summer.

With one innings to go in Chennai, Root has returned 1,471 runs – a total that has him two ahead of Jonny Bairstow as the pair vie to overhaul Michael Vaughan’s England record of 1,481 in 2002 – and for the second year running has matched a record he shares with India’s Virender Sehwag of having made 13 scores in excess of fifty. In short, it has been a pretty handy 12 months for the Yorkshireman.

Root, however, is something of a perfectionist. As he trudged towards the pavilion after being caught behind off Ravi Jadeja for 88, uttering easily lip-read swear words before kicking the boundary rope, his anger was first in response to the dismissal – he did not believe he had hit the ball – before dwelling on the fact that turning fifties into hundreds in Test cricket remains something of an albatross about his neck.

On the decision itself, which saw him given not out on the field after bottom-edging a sweep shot to the wicketkeeper, Parthiv Patel, only for it to be overturned on review, Root was still baffled after stumps as to what caused the spike on the snickometer.

“I was convinced I didn’t hit it. The technology suggested otherwise. The bat wasn’t near the floor, so I must have got a fine one on it. I was a bit childish with my reaction but you will be disappointed when you feel hard done by,” the 25-year-old said.

The second wave of ire that sunk in – that pesky conversion rate – is not a new phenomenon and something Root spoke about during the summer. Root has scored 11 centuries and 27 half-centuries in 53 Tests but in his past 17 scores of more than fifty, only three have been converted to three-figure scores.

And if it is not so much about the milestone then it is the fact a player of his undoubted quality – who is third in the ICC Test rankings – should be piling on more monstrous scores when well set.

This latest offering in Chennai was a classic of the genre, albeit with a disrupted buildup. Having spent the previous day using the road by the stadium as an auxiliary net after the practice facilities were damaged by Monday’s cyclone – a move to address some footwork issues and another sign of his perfectionism – Root emerged in the sixth over of the day looking once more in prime form.

His footwork was crisp, the bad balls were put away and while Moeen Ali, on the way to his fifth Test hundred, started in ropey fashion following Alastair Cook’s fifth removal to Jadeja in the series, the No3 kept the score ticking over nicely.

Resuming after lunch on 44, Root opened up a touch more. If the charge down the pitch that summarily dispatched Ravi Ashwin over his head was the pick of his 10 fours then it was the sweep that was his most effective release shot. It would also be the one that brought his demise when, with a 12th Test century seemingly there for the taking, the lightest of tickles denied him.

“It’s been a theme throughout the year, something to ask Santa for and hopefully we can sort out for next year,” said Root, when quizzed about this apparent glitch. “I’d be lying if said I wasn’t frustrated about it but I feel my game is in good order. I’m not sure why it is maybe, I wouldn’t say overconfidence, but maybe I need to rein it in slightly. But if it’s a bad ball I want to hit it for four.”

If a better conversion of fifties into hundreds is on his Christmas wishlist, the subject of his possible upgrade to England captain could dominate the new year when Cook discusses his future in the role with Andrew Strauss. One could feed into the other, with Australia’s Steve Smith and India’s Virat Kohli, the two batsmen above him in the ICC charts, having experienced something of a surge since taking over their respective sides.

Smith has turned eight of his 15 scores above 50 into hundreds as captain, while for Kohli that number is eight from 12. Could Root’s batting similarly hit a new level as a result of the additional responsibility? Or should this three-format cricketer be allowed more time to focus solely on his game without being worn down by all the additional demands on his time?

Taking his mind away from cricket is something Root is aware of, having initially taken up playing the ukulele as a distraction on tour before recently upgrading to a guitar. There is no question his batting is making some sweet music but like his choice of instrument, going bigger is needed to bring him full satisfaction.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Ali Martin at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, for The Guardian on Friday 16th December 2016 14.20 Europe/London

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