On the second day of the Lord's Test, England put the knife in. The third day was all about twisting. Joe Root showed that not every young player had his technique and temperament completely ruined by the proliferation of Twenty20 cricket, helping himself to a big hundred on a day in which Australia were relentlessly ground into the dust. England's lead had swollen to 566 and, with two full days and five second-innings wickets in hand, there was no immediate end in sight as far as the torture was concerned. (Day 3 in pics)
As feeble as Australia's batsmen have been all series, their bowlers have never been found wanting in terms of effort. Without the cushion of runs on the board, and a summer so hot and dry that it's only a matter of time before drought is declared, against batsmen who relished the chance to make a name for themselves, Australia's bowling attack has toiled hard. But there does come a time, especially with the prospect of three more Tests in this series and five at home against the same opposition in the not-so-distant future, looming large when shoulders droop, even if subconsciously. (Also read: Australia investigate obscene tweet on controversial Ian Bell decision)
Where Trent Bridge was characterised by the ball beating bat, with swing, both conventional and reverse, and spin from the rough, ensuring that there was something for the bowlers to work with, the third day at Lord's was one in which the wicketkeeper was reduced to joining the ranks of the spectators in the stands. There were many passages of play in which Brad Haddin could have easily exchanged his big gloves for a pint of lager and no one would have noticed.
When the day began, Australia could afford to be hopeful, however unrealistically, on the back of the three breakthroughs Peter Siddle forced in the dying moments of the second day. But, hope soon turned to outright irritation as Tim Bresnan took his role as nightwatchman a touch too seriously, and refused to be prised from the crease. Bresnan, who faced 137 balls for his 38, was on the verge of putting on 100 for the third wicket, with Root, when he pulled a short one to the fielder in front of square. (Related read: Australia hope spirit of Don Bradman provides inspiration)
Ian Bell, in form and cashing in, replaced Bresnan, and immediately played one of his characteristically pretty cut shots down to third man for a boundary. Spectators, who were spending less and less time at their seats, paused mid-conversation in the concourses abutting the stands, looking up at the giant screens every time a cheer went up, as it was inevitably Bell pleasing the purists with a sublime shot.
Root, who had begun the day on 18, was playing a brand of pragmatic cricket that showed just how much the batsman knew about making runs. It's said that a young batsman begins by learning to play all the shots, then understanding which ones work for him and, finally, reaches a position where the strokes themselves are irrelevant, leaving behind an instinct to accumulate runs. It seemed like Root had very quickly gone through the first two phases, and was mature beyond his 22 years.
Make no mistake, Root is no ugly batsman. His strokes bear an unmistakeable stamp of class, but the manner in which he denied the bowlers even a sniff of a chance lent an air of inevitability to proceedings. Root brought up his century with a cracking cut off Ashton Agar, off 247 balls and before you knew it, he was at 150, tucking a leg-stump delivery from Steve Smith for a risk-free single.
Bell, provided the one spot of excitement on the day, when on only 3, as he deflected a ball from Ryan Harris straight to Smith at gully. The catch was well taken, centimetres from the ground, but with the two on-field umpires not having a clear view of the fielder, the matter was sent upstairs. As is so often the case with catches close to the ground, television pictures did not help matters along, and Bell stayed.
Eventually, though, it was perhaps boredom that got to Bell and, on 78, he hit a rank longhop from Smith straight to the fielder at midwicket. Root suffered no such loss of concentration and walked off the field with 178 to his name, applauded by the crowd and congratulated by some of the Australians. With a lead of 566 already in the bag, Root may be unable to top his first-class best of 236, but he's already done enough to put the game beyond Australia.