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Joe Root and centuries on captaincy debut

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Joe_Root_England_cricketJoe Root became the 7th Englishman and the 30th overall to score a century on his captaincy debut in Test cricket. The enormity of the achievement can be gauged from the fact that out of the 323 players who have led their side in Tests, only 30 have managed to achieve illustrious feat. While some of the 323 are bowlers and all-rounders, it still shows how difficult a task it is. No matter how good a player is, there are always bound to be a few nerves before his first Test as captain.

The extra responsibility of taking charge of 10 other players, making tactical decisions and facing up to the media has weighed heavily on even some distinguished players in the past. There have been some players who voluntarily relinquished the captaincy because it has led to a decline in their form and they were unable to endure the sheer strain of the job.

In this article, we look at the performances of 4 modern greats who scored a century in their first Test as captain.

Kevin Pietersen, England vs South Africa, Basil D’ Oliveira Trophy, 4th Test, Kennington Oval, London, 7th to 11th August 2008

Pietersen had just taken over the reins from Michael Vaughan. He had made his Test debut just 3 years earlier and had acquitted himself well since then. With big boots to fill, he wanted to make a strong statement. In this match, South Africa batted first and were all out for 194. In reply, England were 51/2 when Pietersen strode to the crease. He immediately imposed his will on the proceedings by striking Makhaya Ntini for 2 fours.

Pietersen had a wide range of shots in his repertoire and he played shots all around the dial. There were some sumptuous pulls and drives through the V. He took the attack to the South African bowlers and as he neared his century, he struck Morne Morkel for three fours in an over through mid-wicket, past the bowler and through extra cover.

He reached his century by flicking Ntini through midwicket but was out soon after scoring exactly 100 off just 137 balls, studded with 15 fours at a strike rate of 73. It was a strong start to his captaincy career. England won by 6 wickets.

Alastair Cook, England vs Bangladesh, 1st Test, Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, Chittagong, 12th to 16th March 2010

Andrew Strauss had taken a break for the Bangladesh tour and Cook was entrusted with the responsibility of leading England on the tour to Bangladesh. While it is easy to say that the opposition was weak, there are no free lunches in Test cricket. Bangladesh won the toss and elected to field. Cook opened the innings and quickly assessed the conditions. He realized that there was nothing in the pitch for the bowlers and that it was safe to score quickly.

Cook’s strength is his ability to be patient and work the ball around while always capitalizing on any loose deliveries. Thanks to his fine innings, England ground the Bangladesh attack into the dust and scored a mammoth 599/6 in their first innings.

Cook was dismissed caught and bowled by Mahmudullah for a fine 173 which contained 16 fours and 2 sixes. England won the match by 181 runs. Even though the English captaincy was only temporary at that point, Cook had shown that he was equal to the task.

Virat Kohli, India vs Australia, Border-Gavaskar Trophy, 4th Test, Adelaide Oval, 9th to 13th December 2014

Mahendra Singh Dhoni was injured for the first Test of the series and Kohli was the stand-in captain. While Dhoni was often criticized by critics as being too defensive, Kohli showed his aggressive intent by picking the leg-spinner Karn Sharma for the Test instead of the more experienced Ravichandran Ashwin. The move backfired, but it showed that Kohli was willing to be aggressive and take risks in order to win.

Australia batted first and scored 517/7d in their first innings. India made a strong reply with Kohli scoring an imperious 115 off just 184 balls, including 12 fours. Australia had a first innings lead of 73 and scored 290/5d in their 2nd innings on the 4th day, to set India a target of 364 on the last day.

Most captains would have opted for a safety-first approach and played for a draw, trying to go into the 2nd Test on level terms, as a total of 364 in the 4th innings is always a daunting task. However, Kohli had other ideas and his positive approach rubbed off on his team mates and India had a go at the target.

Ian Chappell called it the best batting he had ever witnessed in the 4th innings. Kohli didn’t play any reckless shots but scored very freely as India whittled down the target. Eventually, Kohli was dismissed for 141 off 175 balls with 16 fours and a six at a strike rate of 80.57. After his dismissal, India capitulated to 315 all out and lost by 48 runs. However, Kohli won a lot of admirers and fans with his positive attitude.

Steve Smith, Australia vs India, Border Gavaskar Trophy, 2nd Test, Woolloongabba, Brisbane, 17th to 20th December 2014

Michael Clarke had injured himself in the previous Test and Steve Smith was in his first Test in charge. India won the toss and elected to bat. They were all out for 408 in the first innings. Australia began strongly and were 98/2 when Smith arrived at the crease.

Smith was enjoying a golden run in his career and India were seemingly bereft of ideas as to how to dismiss him. He scored at a brisk rate without playing any extravagant shots and kept the scoreboard ticking at a brisk clip. He was finally dismissed after scoring 133 when he inside edged Ishant Sharma onto his stumps.

His knock came from 191 balls and contained 13 fours and 2 sixes. Australia went on to win by 4 wickets and Smith had made a winning start to his captaincy career.

With the exception of Pietersen, all the other 3 players have enjoyed, or are still enjoying, long careers as captain. They have shown that if you are sound temperamentally, then it is possible to score runs and maintain your form even when thrust with the responsibility of captaincy.

 

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