Kolkata: It’s the kind of funky surname that can inspire puns galore, but there is more to Joe Root than just that. If West Indies had expected Joe the batsman to be the root cause of all their problems, then they weren’t wrong. But they had surely not bargained for Root the bowler to leave his imprint.
Eoin Morgan is no Mahendra Singh Dhoni, but at a packed Eden Gardens on a muggy Sunday (April 3) night, he briefly walked in the Indian captain’s shoes, entrusting the offspinner with new-ball responsibilities. In six previous bowls in T20I cricket, Root had done that just once, with no success. In the final of the ICC World Twenty20 2016, Root and England were in seventh heaven as Johnson Charles and Chris Gayle both holed out in the outfield, to catches of varying degrees of difficulty completed with remarkable ease by Ben Stokes.
England’s 155 for 9 after Darren Sammy won his sixth toss of the tournament had looked below par at the break. But Root’s twin strikes in the second over of the chase to leave the 2012 winners gasping at 5 for 2 with two of their heaviest hitters back in the dugout was a stunning body blow from which few other sides would have recovered.
Not West Indies. Looking to emulate their women, who emerged triumphant earlier in the evening, they unleashed two other heroes—an already acknowledged one and another whose life will never be the same again. Marlon Samuels steered the wobbling ship with a steady hand but it was Carlos Brathwaite who walked away with all the accolades, lashing Stokes for three towering sixes off the first three deliveries with 19 required.
Eden, electric Eden, erupted like never before. The crescendo reached fever pitch when Brathwaite clouted a fourth successive six, deep over midwicket. West Indies, the 2102 champions, became the first team to win the World T20 twice. In the end, victory was attained by four wickets with two deliveries to spare, a massive body blow for England who were defeated but far from disgraced.
Samuels had kept West Indies in the hunt till the final over with a sensational unbeaten 85 marked by thunderous hitting down the ground, but the rest of his batting colleagues had left him with too much to do on his own. Then Brathwaite, who had a fine outing with the ball (3-23), decided it was time he showed the world what he could do with those four sixes that highlighted the stand of 54 with just 25 deliveries. As the final strike soared over the ropes, the team stormed the ground and rendered their version of Champions, the crowd joining them in near synchronicity.
West Indies had come into the final five with 52 needed and six wickets in hand, though Charles and Lendl Simmons, two of their semifinal heroes, had already departed. Off the first ball of the 16th, Andre Russell, the other batting star in Mumbai, was also sent packing. Game over, one thought.
But Samuels, then 50 off 47, and Brathwaite had other ideas, after the 75-run fourth-wicket stand between Samuels and Dwayne Bravo had already redressed the balance somewhat. They did enough to take the game into the final over with the target not out of reach, and Brathwaite teed off with devastating effect in making 34 off just 10 deliveries to completely shade Samuels.
Called back after replays showed that Buttler had taken the catch on the bounce off a Liam Plunkett edge when just 27, Samuels didn’t mind ceding the centre stage one bit. After all, the team of boundary-hitters with an aversion for the hard-run ones and the cheeky twos had done it again.
Root had played the guiding role during England’s batting stint with his second half-century of the tournament, another glorious innings full of conventional strokes that must have pleased the connoisseur. Buttler apart, no one had followed his lead role with the bat; with the ball, Root found a lot more support—from David Willey and Plunkett, the pacemen, as well as from Adil Rashid, the leggie who finished with 1 for 23 from four excellent overs. In the end, none of that was enough.
England had only two stands in the mid-20s apart from the Root-Buttler association, but during that fourth-wicket alliance of 61, it was obvious how far they have traversed as a limited-overs unit. The England of past would have shut shop at 23 for 3 in the fifth over, hoping to negotiate the next seven or eight overs with modest scoring ambitions and with an eye on keeping wickets in hand. Root and Butter are new school England, conservatism a distant cousin to their aggressive intent that has been a standout feature of this competition.
It helped their cause that reasonably early in their alliance, West Indies bowled Samuel Badree out. The legspinner is no magical turner of the ball, he doesn’t have too many mysteries, and might generally appear honest at best, but there is a reason why he is ranked the No. 1 T20I bowler in the world. He gives very little in terms of width or length, bowls reasonably quickly through the air and doesn’t allow batsmen to line him up. Semifinal hero Jason Roy was his first victim, bowled on the inside edge by a slider, while Morgan’s miserable run with the bat extended to a fifth straight innings as a googly lobbed off the outside edge of a closed bat-face to slip.
In between, Russell had hit it lucky as Alex Hales unerringly picked up short fine-leg when he could have smashed the ball anywhere on the thinly populated legside. By then, Root had already lit up the night with two wonderful back-foot drives and a peachy on-drive, re-establishing himself as England’s go-to man and the biggest obstacle between West Indies and a peek at the lower middle.
In Buttler, Root finally found an ally willing to both run hard between the wickets and effortlessly put the bad balls away. Sulieman Benn, the left-arm spinner, had a particularly poor evening, taken apart for three sixes by Buttler on his way to figures of 3-0-40-0, while Sammy, bowling for only the second time in the tournament, went for 14 in his only over as the fifth bowler’s complement of four yielded a massive 54.
But even when Root and Buttler were blazing away, West Indies kept their wits about them. It helped that Russell—who had two one-run overs—and Brathwaite had very good spells to more than make up for the fifth bowler’s generosity. In just 40 deliveries, England’s fourth-wicket pair had snatched the momentum; West Indies grabbed the initiative back through Brathwaite, who sent Buttler to the dugout with a short, nothing delivery.
England still had reason to believe 170 wasn’t out of reach, not with the depth they possessed, but their innings turned on its head in the space of four legal deliveries encompassing the 14th and 15th overs. Bravo packed off Stokes and Mooen Ali in the same over and Brathwaite netted his second big fish, accounting for Root. Not having put a foot wrong playing orthodoxly, Root walked across his stumps to attempt a paddle to leg; as the ball looped off his glove, Benn threw himself forward to complete an excellent catch.
England’s objective then was to bat out the innings, and Willey provided them late impetus with two huge sixes in one Bravo over so that 150 was ticked. There had been no brazen acceleration, but competitive runs had been stacked up. Almost enough, but almost is never good enough, is it?
Mint is in content partnership with Wisden India for 2016 ICC World T20