LONDON – They say that the love of money is the root of all evil, but South Africa’s problem here on Thursday was being unable to get rid of one persistent Root, for love or money.
“It was a very good start, and I enjoyed every minute of it,” England’s newest skipper said on the occasion of his honeymoon at a picturesque Lord’s.
By the first day’s end, the cold-ridden, sweater-clad (during his knock of 184, at least) Joe Root sounded like a man who needed a Med-Lemon and an early night, while South Africa’s bowlers and fielders probably felt like they needed something stronger.
Root’s voice crackled like the champagne that flowed effervescently on the lawns beneath the space-age Media Centre all day.
“It’s from all the Churchill speeches,” the fresh-faced leader joked.
He admitted that he may be milking the cold ever so slightly, but the real milking was done out in the sloped middle as he suckled at the generous teat that a sloppy Proteas attack kept on offering him.
It was as bizarre, and brilliant, and befitting a knock of an England captain at Lord’s, a ground that has been notoriously unkind to them – especially in this fixture.
A stroll around the museum that is the headquarters of the game reveals all that is terrifically traditional about England and the game in whites.
Some still insist that all that coloured clothing malarkey is a farce, a promoter’s dream to make a quick buck.
For those true cricket toffs, the bacon-and-egg tie brigade, the season begins properly with the Test in the charming setting of “God’s garden” in St John’s Wood.
And it is not just the locals who descend upon this priceless patch of purveyor’s paradise. The Saffer accent was as common as the Cockney and the Northern drawl, all mingling around pints, pastries and everything in between.
And there, in the heaving masses was the lesser-spotted coloured rhino, one who goes by the name of Jeremy Fredericks. A picture in Protea green and parched intent, Fredericks informed this scribe that he has never missed a Test since unity.
“I felt that I had to be here, otherwise I would break my unbroken record,” he chimed, even as the masses enthusiastically cheered another Root rumble and fumble by the visitors.
It was incredibly careless from the Proteas, this business of over-stepping and keeping Root to supposedly rot at the crease.
“It was a disappointing end for us,” Vernon Philander sighed. “That was not our best display in the field. There is no excuse for that,” he added of the no-balls.
“No marbles, more like,” observed one elderly gent in the hamburger queue.
It was a withering assessment, as South Africa tumbled from the heights they hit in the first session, when they looked as if they may blow the English away for 150.
“He gave us chances,” Philander rued of the Root of all misery. “Had we taken them there, we could have bowled them out for under 200. We couldn’t put a foot wrong before lunch, then it went pear-shaped,” he assessed.
Pear it certainly went, as Root closed in on a pair of centuries in a day by the time the men in coats called time on the revelry.
“I rode my luck on a few occasions. Getting dropped once, then chipped one over the fielder, getting a reprieve… it all seemed to fall into place really,” Root smirked, his disappearing voice belying the fact that he stands firm at the crease overnight, his disobediently merry choir waiting patiently for him at the cathedral of cricket.