Joe Root compiled a brilliant hundred to haul England back into contention on day two of the third Test against South Africa – but the Yorkshireman admitted he felt lucky to survive his first 12 balls.
Root has had plenty of red letter days for his country, including three Ashes centuries, a maiden ton on his home ground of Headingley and an unbeaten 200 at Lord’s.
But his ninth Test hundred at Johannesburg’s famous Wanderers ‘Bullring’ was possibly the pick of the bunch.
South Africa, boasting a quartet of 90mph pace bowlers, had the tourists in trouble at 22-2 when Root took guard just before lunch.
He was beaten cleanly four times in two overs by debutant Hardus Viljoen, but he never looked back after reaching the interval, making a nerveless 106 not out as England finished 75 behind on 238-5.
“I was just relieved to get to lunch ... at that period I didn’t know what was going on,” he admitted.
“I couldn’t get my footwork together and I was getting in some horrible positions. Thankfully I rode some hard periods but sometimes you need a little luck ... to be able to play and miss and squirt a few in the air past fielders instead of straight to them.
“I think you just have to do that, you have to find a way.”
The turning point for Root came when Ben Stokes joined him in the middle and began unleashing the kind of care-free strokeplay that brought him a record-breaking double century in Cape Town. He was cut off on 58 this time, but having kick-started a stand of 111 in 95 deliveries, the Durham all-rounder had already freed the shackles on Root.
“He takes pressure off you at the other end when he comes in and plays that way, that aggressively,” explained the Yorkshire batsman.
“It’s just natural, when you see someone scoring like that at the other end and putting the bowlers under pressure it brings that out in your own game as well
“Ben’s not very talkative in the middle, he’s very different to how he is off the field – great craic – but out there batting it’s all about concentrating on being as destructive as possible.
“You saw that today and you saw that last week. The way we batted, especially when we tried to put them back under pressure, was really important to us.”
With others lining up to shower him with praise, Root declined to place his knock in the context of his other best work for England.
It may well be his finest to date should it form the basis of a match, and series-winning effort. But he stressed there is still plenty of work to do.
“I don’t think I’ll really look into it too much until after the game,” he added. “Hopefully, a positive result comes from it.
“There’s going to have to be a lot of hard work done by all the guys to get that from this game and the way we play for the rest of the innings is crucial.”