Cardiff, July 8: Joe Root shouldered the immense expectations on him as England's most reliable batsman by scoring a century that took the momentum from Australia on the first day of the first Ashes Test today.
In superb form, he fearlessly attacked Australia for 134 in piloting England to 343-7 at stumps, a decent score on a so-so Sophia Gardens pitch after electing to bat first and running into immediate trouble. Luck was with Root.
Captain Alastair Cook and Ian Bell had just gone in successive overs, England was 43-3 in overcast conditions and, on the second ball he faced, Root tried to jam a Mitchell Starc delivery and edged behind.
Wicketkeeper Brad Haddin dived to his right, the ball flew into the middle of his right glove, and dropped out. Root made it a very expensive miss, just as he did two years ago at Lord's, where Haddin missed a chance when Root was on 8 and the Englishman scored 180 in helping England double its Ashes lead. Root was just a tyro then.
Now he's the world's leading run-scorer in Tests since May last year, averaging 85 with five centuries in 13 Tests. He has hit 1,321 runs for England in all formats this year. The ball comes to him the size of a balloon, and he's blowing it around to all parts.
But it's doubtful he would have been as free-flowing if not for Gary Ballance's determination to scratch out runs. Ballance hadn't scored more than 29 in his last seven innings for England and Yorkshire, and he rode his luck for more than 3 1/2 hours.
But his grittiness freed Root, and their partnership from just after noon to just after tea, lifted England from peril to authority. Their stand of 153, undefeated through the middle session, ended when Ballance was lbw to fast bowler Jason Hazlewood for 61, nine above his test average, off 149 balls.
In the next over, Root brought up his seventh test century, and second against Australia, with a 14th boundary through the covers, and a 14th cheer of "R-o-o-o-t" from the capacity crowd. Root then combined with Ben Stokes for 84 runs until he edged Starc behind. He defied Australia for more than four hours, met 166 balls, and hit some nice cover drives among 17 boundaries.
England was 280-5. The disappointingly toothless pitch allowed Stokes to add 52, Jos Buttler 27 until five minutes from stumps, and Moeen Ali an unbeaten 26. Stuart Broad was the nightwatchman and yet to score.