As the next big thing in English cricket, Joe Root’s pathway has taken an unexpected turn. Whatever he achieves as a batsman in the coming years he will always be the blameless choirboy who was bashed in the face by an Australian opponent a trifle the worse for wear.
In private, Root might have had plenty to say about his altercation with David Warner in a Birmingham late-night boozer. In public he has said nothing, shielded from questions and scrutiny about the unfortunate turn of events and depicted perfectly by his superiors as the innocent bystander.
Root’s stock, already high, may have risen because of the kerfuffle. The public loves nothing more than a wronged innocent, particularly one who is so fresh-faced. When they were in the Walkabout bar in the early hours last Sunday it is tempting to wonder which of Root, Stuart Broad or Chris Woakes was the first to say: “The Milky Bars are on me.”
The incident has dominated proceedings and has tended rather to deflect attention from the fact that England are again in grave danger of mucking up a major tournament at home. After losing to Sri Lanka at The Oval on Thursday they have to beat New Zealand in Cardiff on Sunday to qualify and, given recent encounters between the two, that really does make it anybody’s game.
England won a series in New Zealand 2-1 at the start of the year, the Kiwis won the return by the same margin two weeks ago. This is the decider.
There is a general view that the bowlers, admittedly on a placid pitch, let England down slightly at The Oval. They should have defended a total of 293 but erred a little too often in length. The selectors will think seriously about recalling Steve Finn, according to the rankings and his recent form their most effective one-day bowler.
Unfortunately, the weather forecast is dire and if England have to settle for a point for an abandoned match their destiny is out of their hands.
To reach the semi-finals then they must rely on Australia beating Sri Lanka in their final pool match on Monday, but not by so much that it would take their net run rate beyond England’s. For Englishmen to be cheering for a little victory for Australia might be strange, but there it is.
Root appears to have survived the fracas in Birmingham with aplomb. One day he may tell his side of the story (or not) but he got on with the job of playing cricket at The Oval on Thursday, scoring 68, although England crucially lost to Sri Lanka.
He has never failed to impress the coaching staff since he broke into the squad last winter and it was probable that this also counted in his favour when the inquest into the Birmingham incident was held.
“Joe has a very simple way of approaching the game,” said Richard Halsall, England’s assistant coach. “If there’s anywhere he’s happiest it’s when he’s playing cricket. The other stuff he puts to one side because he loves playing cricket for England.
“He has a healthy way of looking at things, he’s not trying to prove people wrong or right or fight for his place. I don’t know him but he seems a bit like Mike Hussey, who appears as if he just loves cricket, whether it’s an Ashes Test, a World Cup final or a net session.”
How Australia could do with the affable Hussey to right their murky ship now. The fall-out from the Birmingham incident has continued and anybody who doubted that Warner was not wholly culpable for it should have heard James Sutherland, the chief executive of Cricket Australia in Brisbane yesterday. Sutherland is a relaxed individual but he gave the impression of a man who had had quite enough when he described Warner’s actions as despicable.
“But I also hold the team to account here,” said Sutherland. “There were other people there with him and those that were there need to take responsibility for that, but so does the team as a whole and the team management group as well.”
England, of course, would prefer to forget it, but Root’s every movement this summer can expect to be monitored from now on. However, they seem determined not to alter their policy.
Halsall said: “It is a reminder that there are standards expected of cricketers. When playing for England you have responsibilities. That’s been reinforced.”
If England fail to qualify for the Champions Trophy semi-finals, then their first major target of the year will have been missed. They will be the only top-rank side in world cricket still to win a global 50-over tournament. Winning the Ashes later in the year would be immense compensation, but it would be an absent item on the CV of their captain, Alastair Cook, as it has been on that of England captains 16 times before.
Jonathan Trott has a quadriceps injury and will be tested in Cardiff to check if he is fit for tomorrow’s match. He did not field at The Oval on Thursday night as a precaution.
England A N Cook (capt), I R Bell, I J L Trott, J E Root, E J G Morgan, R S Bopara, J C Buttler (wkt), S T Finn, S C J Broad, GP Swann, JM Anderson.
New Zealand B B McCullum (capt), L Ronchi (wkt), M J Guptill, K S Williamson, L R P L Taylor, J E C Franklin, N L McCullum, D L Vettori, T G Southee, K D Mills, M J McClenaghan.
Umpires R Tucker (Aus) & B Oxenford (Aus).
TV 10am-6.30pm, Sky Sports 1
Weather Persistent rain is expected throughout the day. Maximum temperature: 14C.
Odds: England 8-13; N Zealand 13-10