Joe Root's Heroics Against India Mustn't Mask Another Feeble England Collapse

Chris Bradshaw@@BradshawCDFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2014

England's Joe Root celebrates after scoring a half century during day three of the first Test between England and India at Trent Bridge cricket ground, Nottingham, England, Friday, July 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
Rui Vieira/Associated Press

Joe Root stood tall amidst the carnage of yet another batting collapse as England's middle order once again misfired against India at Trent Bridge.

It could have been even worse for the home side who will start the fourth day on 352 for nine, a deficit of 105. That the shortfall is so small is largely down to an unbeaten 78 from Root and some lusty lower-order defiance from Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson.

Such a potentially perilous position seemed a world away when Sam Robson and Gary Ballance were serenely compiling a 125-run partnership during a largely trouble-free morning session.

It took India 33 overs to finally make the breakthrough when Ishant Sharma nipped one back to trap Robson leg before. In a scene depressingly familiar to England followers, calm soon turned to chaos as the home side lost five more wickets during the session.

Ballance played round a straight one and was trapped in front by Sharma. Ian Bell, looking in fine touch, couldn't decide whether to stick or twist against a short ball; in the end, he did neither and feathered one to MS Dhoni to become Sharma's third victim.

Moeen Ali played a couple of delicious drives before being deceived by a rare short ball from Mohammed Shami and gloved one to first slip. Matt Prior followed in the next over, the victim of a rough caught behind decision.

Two balls later and Ben Stokes was joining Prior in the pavilion after nicking one that moved away slightly from Bhuvneshwar Kumar to give the Indian skipper his third catch.

In the space of 21 overs, England conspired to lose six wickets for 74 runs and gift control of the match to the visitors.

England, of course, have a record for this type of collapse. As Sky Cricket helpfully tweeted, Alastair Cook's men have a rap sheet at which even Norman Stanley Fletcher would blush.

England's batting collapses in the last 12 months: #EngvInd

— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) July 11, 2014

The personnel may be different from the winter, but the results must be similarly worrying for the England hierarchy. A batting line where Nos. 2, 3 and 6 have a combined 10 Test caps is always going to have some teething troubles, but collapses like this have the potential to become a habit.

So what can be done to prevent another middle-order meltdown? It's about recognising potentially dangerous situations and having the presence of mind to adjust accordingly.

Speaking on Sky TV during England's ODI series against the West Indies in March (collapses have plagued England in the shorter forms of the game too), Nick Knight and Marcus Trescothick put the onus on the senior players to take the lead.

With Alastair Cook desperately out of touch and Ian Bell finding increasingly bizarre ways to get out, there is increasing pressure on Joe Root. The Yorkshireman looked scratchy at the start of his innings but showed patience and maturity en route to an unbeaten 78.

After putting on 78 with a swashbuckling Stuart Broad and 18 with Liam Plunkett, Root added an unbeaten 54 for the last wicket with Jimmy Anderson.

Those 150 runs from the last three wickets have edged England closer to safety, a fact acknowledged by former England skipper Michael Vaughan. 

At the end of the game I reckon we will all be saying the last session today saved England the game... Outstanding from @joeroot05 and co

— Michael Vaughan (@MichaelVaughan) July 11, 2014

The latest collapse may not be up there with Adelaide 2006, Headingley 1992 or Melbourne 1990. If England don't find an answer to their batting aberrations, though, the wait for another Test win, let alone a series triumph could be a long one. At least Joe Root is showing the way.