t is not easy to tell over a grainy Zoom call. But yesterday, as he ticked over 20 virtual press conferences and marked the two-month anniversary of swapping home with his wife and two kids for Asian bubbles, Joe Root looked a touch weary for the first time.
And as he gets ready for one last push, who could blame the England captain?
The gloss has rather worn off in the last two games, with England befuddled by India’s spinners, but it remains in Root’s grasp to fly home with what he describes as a “monumental” achievement.
Already, with three wins under the belt, they will return having narrowly exceeded expectations. And that they are is due, in large part, to the captain himself.
Root has carried England’s batting. He has made their only three scores over 87. England have not reached 200 since he last reached 200. He is averaging 76, while no one else currently on tour averages as much as 29 this winter. He has 34 per cent of England’s runs.
Root knows how important his wicket is. His assessment of the reason England lost the Third Test bordered on self-flagellation. “As a player in form, the game I’ve got against spin, to get out like I did I thought that was as disappointed as I’ve been in a long time,” he said of being dismissed by a rare misreading of Ravi Ashwin’s length when England were 74 for two shortly before lunch on day one. That is because while Root’s team — especially the batting — is full of promise, it is youthful.
For the Second Test in Chennai, five of the top seven had played fewer than 25 Tests. “I have played more Tests in Asia than all of them put together,” he said of England’s young batsmen. As a result, his team-mates have looked to him for runs and guidance like never before. Back in Sri Lanka, eons ago, some of the spinners became disheartened by the challenge of bowling to him, so sure was he of his game.
So as Root took career-best figures of five for eight last week, to go with the batting, the excellent catching and the responsibilities that captaincy brings, it was hard to avoid the conclusion he has to write the theme tune — and sing it as well.
It is no surprise he wants Dom Bess back in the team this week to at least guarantee that he will not have to open the bowling again.
Life has not been made simple for Root, a deeply dutiful captain. At no point has he had his strongest squad of players available, a luxury afforded to his white-ball counterpart Eoin Morgan for the T20 series that begins next week.
Since winning the First Test, England have been playing on pitches that expose their greatest weaknesses — facing extreme turn and bowling spin. Root has not complained, but all that makes for sapping work, especially when the added challenges of quarantine and bubble life are thrown in.
If England are to have any chance this week, Root will need to stand tall once more. But he cannot do it alone again — and it is time his team-mates did him a favour.