Joe Root proved many sound judges right yesterday, and became the new pride of Sheffield too, with a composed half-century on Test debut for England.
The 21-year-old, who grew up watching Ashes-winning captain Michael Vaughan playing in the same Sheffield Collegiate club side as his own dad, conquered the inevitable nerves in Nagpur and appeared in control throughout his innings of 73.
Root needed to dig in, on a conspicuously low and slow pitch, to joint top-score alongside Kevin Pietersen in England’s 330 all out as they seek to close out a famous series victory.
After James Anderson then took 3-24 as India stumbled to 87-4 by stumps on day two of this final Test, Root has obvious prospects of starting his international career at the very top as part of the first England team to win a series here since long before he was born.
England’s new No 6 began his maiden innings on Thursday, but continued past his first 50 yesterday morning as he and Matt Prior (57) took their stand into three figures.
There were no friends and family in attendance, but many made it clear with Twitter messages – and photos posted from his youngest years as an early England hopeful – that they were willing Root on throughout.
He has long been the subject of rave reviews from Performance Programme coach and former England batsman Graham Thorpe too, but once here only he could justify the hype.
“It would be wrong to say there’s no nerves when you’re waiting to bat in Test cricket for the first time,” said Root. “But I’ve got a great team around me, who are very encouraging and very helpful.
“Then once I got in the middle, I was quite relaxed.
“I’m obviously delighted to get the opportunity, and then to score a few runs is a really good feeling.”
He had no doubts at any point that much of South Yorkshire, including his nearest and dearest, were batting every ball with him via television coverage.
“They’re not out here; they’re sat at home watching,” he said. “It just shows that I’ve been dreaming about this opportunity for a very long time, and I’m very proud I’ve finally got it.”
Vaughan, it seems, has sensibly allowed Root to find his own way but is still available if required.
“He’s given me a bit of advice over the years, but in recent times he’s just let me get on with it,” added Root.
“It’s always nice to have someone like that to talk to if you ever need to. My dad played in the same side as him, so I’d go down with my brother and knock up on the side and he’d be playing.
“It was always nice to have someone to look up to and see him go through the same sort of routes – club cricket, Yorkshire and England.”
Root’s first cap came as a surprise to many, including him, when he was picked here in place of Samit Patel – who had batted at No 6 in the first three Tests. Conditions meant there would be no quick path to success once out in the middle either.
“(I knew I had to) just really work hard and grind it out, because the guys who’d gone in before said it was tough. I had to get my bearings, and stay patient.
“You just try to adapt to the conditions and situation, and make the most of what you’ve got.”
The signs are Root might have helped put England in control.
“We’re in a pretty good position now. So I hope we can kick on Saturday and really do some damage in the morning,” he said. “Jimmy’s bowled fantastically well, as he has throughout the series, and it’s going to be a big period for us Saturday morning.”
Root’s one regret was that he could not hang on for a debut hundred, having battled so hard for almost five hours.
“I wasn’t really thinking that far ahead ... but that’s what you dream of as a kid,” he said. “It’ll just make me more determined if I get an opportunity in the future.”
There were only two boundaries in Root’s 50, and four in all by the time he was done in a composed innings featuring compact defence against spin and the seam of Ishant Sharma – with the sweep his main outlet to slow bowlers.
By the time he was out – caught and bowled by Chawla – England were on course to post a handy score, Graeme Swann’s lusty 56 giving the innings a welcome late impetus.
Anderson soon made that 330 total look even better as he bowled Virender Sehwag for a duck in the first over of India’s innings, the opener managing to play defensively inside an inswinger and losing his middle stump.
Pujara and Gautam Gambhir shared a half-century stand either side of tea until the No 3 fell to an outstanding close-in catch by Ian Bell off the bowling of Swann.
Sachin Tendulkar’s miserable series continued when Alastair Cook recalled Anderson to take the veteran master batsman’s wicket for a record ninth time in Tests. Tendulkar was undone by more low bounce and an inside edge on to his stumps.
When Anderson then saw off Gambhir as well in a spell of two for three in four overs, edging an attempted drive behind, it was evident for the first time that England were taking control of this Test and the series as a whole.