LONDON (AP) — Former skipper Joe Root gave his successor Ben Stokes the perfect start to his captaincy at Lord’s, carrying England to victory with a century to clinch the first test against New Zealand on Sunday.
Root stepped down as England test captain in April after five years and a record 64 games in charge, but remains the team’s most reliable performer and produced an unbeaten 115 to set up a five-wicket victory.
In a decisive partnership with Ben Foakes, who scored 32 in an unbroken stand of 120, Root shepherded the hosts to a chase of 277 with his first fourth-innings hundred.
By doing so Root became the 14 batter and just the second Englishman to reach 10,000 career test runs — following in the footsteps of his own predecessor as captain, Alastair Cook. The symmetry of their achievements does not end there, with both men exactly 31 years and 157 days old when they crossed the threshold.
It was Root’s 26th test century, level with West Indies great Sir Garfield Sobers, but he will be even more satisfied by its importance to the team — under new coach Brendon McCullum, a former New Zealand star player — after a run of nine tests without a victory.
“It had become a very unhealthy relationship to be honest, the captaincy and me,” Root said. “It started to really take a bad toll on my own personal health. I couldn’t leave it at the ground anymore, it was coming home.”
Root said he was there to “help England win test matches and be a side people enjoy watching and can be proud of.”
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson praised Root’s decisive innings in a match that “ebbed and flowed the whole time. ”
“I think both teams stayed in the fight but in the end, England came away with the reward,” he said. “It was a fantastic game of cricket, finely balanced throughout. It took a incredible innings from an amazing player — to get them across the line.”
England was marginal favorite as it resumed on 216-5 on Day 4, with 61 runs still needed and five wickets in hand, but the task still looked a taxing one.
With thick, grey clouds overhead and the floodlights on from the first ball, conditions were far from ideal for batting. A fragile lower-order, featuring at least three natural No. 11s, also cranked up the responsibility on the overnight pairing of Root and Foakes.
But a game that has see-sawed with a series of twists concluded in unusually serene fashion.
Root was reliably measured, but Foakes also deserved credit for the way he held up his end.
Having successfully shut out the Kiwi attack on the third evening, soaking up 48 balls for nine runs, the Surrey wicketkeeper expanded his repertoire.
With boundaries at a premium he helped himself to two in the space of three deliveries from Kyle Jamieson, punching shots off the back foot toward third man before crunching an on-drive. Later, with the target dipping below 30, he rocked onto his heels and pulled Tim Southee between two fielders for four more.
Root moved into the 90s by drilling Jamieson down the ground and then had a slice of luck when an under edge evaded both his stumps and Tom Blundell’s dive on its way to the ropes.
New Zealand had hoped to hang in and needed the second new ball to work some magic for them. However, it could not halt England’s scoring. Root started the 77th over on 98 runs in the innings and 9,998 in his career and hit Southee to mid-wicket for a couple to bring up a proud double.
He punched the air in joy and pointed to the pavilion as the crowd applauded, with the winning line now just a few shots away. Root finished the job in a blaze of glory, taking Southee for three boundaries in an over as he wrapped up the game.
Stokes praised Root’s winning performance.
“Joe and I are very close, we’re not just work colleagues,” Stokes said. “To see him walk off there, leading the team to victory, seeing the emotion of pure joy and happiness to win a game for England in his first game after stepping down as captain was amazing.”
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