Classy Joe Root shows panache to be England fixture straight away
New Zealand 269 England 270-2 (England win by eight wickets)
Joe Root is planting himself firmly in England's batting order. He may be taking a similar hold in the selectors' collective psyche. He has panache, composure and authority and these enviable qualities ensured that England levelled the one-day series against New Zealand.
In assembling a lovely if not flawless 79 off 56 balls he became the only batsman in history to score above 30 in each of his first six ODI innings. Root was fortunate to start batting when England were in command of their destiny at McLean Park in the second of three matches but he never looked remotely as if he would spurn this good fortune.
England won by eight wickets with 14 balls left, which makes the final match in Auckland on Saturday the decider. Root and Jonathan Trott shared an unbroken partnership of 121 after Alastair Cook and Ian Bell had put on 89 for the first wicket and Cook and Trott 60 for the second.
With Jimmy Anderson taking five wickets in an ODI for the second time and Steve Finn bowling like the wind from his short new run, it was quite enough to repel the spectacular interventions of two Kiwis.
Ross Taylor, their sacked captain, scored an excellent 100 and was given an overwhelming reception by the crowd. The general feeling is that he has been woefully treated by New Zealand's officials. Brendon McCullum, his replacement, played scintillatingly to plunder 74 off 36 balls and while the pair shared 100 runs in 53 balls, England briefly lost control.
Since he was propelled unexpectedly into the Test team last December for the final match of the series against India, Root has constantly played with aplomb. He scored a mature 73 and has continued to match the promise of that innings.
England are still trying to avoid placing too much expectation on him and now they have an additional difficulty. Root is playing in this series perhaps only because Kevin Pietersen is being rested. If it would be a stretch to imagine Root being omitted any time soon most of the other batsmen are in form as well.
"It's a good problem to have," said Cook. "He can only keep doing what he's doing which is scoring crucial runs. He has surprised me with how well he has done, especially that knock here in Napier when he played shots I didn't know he could play. He bats in the middle for Yorkshire in one-day cricket and that's where you learn to play those."
Root unleashed the scoop shot on several occasions but was equally inventive in other areas, regularly trying to find the gaps with something not quite conventional but not quite outrageous either. He was dropped twice, on 25 and 58, playing bold shots on both occasions.
It will be difficult for England to prevent assessments that he will be the next champion batsman from Yorkshire, a line going back to Herbert Sutcliffe and whose most recent member was Michael Vaughan, from whose Sheffield club Root also hails.
There is more to it than obvious skill and the simple scoring of runs. Root simply has what it takes. As Cook, the England captain, said: "A lot of playing international cricket is about temperament and how you can handle yourself and he has certainly shown at the moment the right attitude and how to deal with pressure."
The bookmakers who promptly installed Root as 5-6 favourite to be the next England captain may have been guilty of rampant opportunism but it was only an example of what will attend Root now in a double Ashes year. Indeed, McCullum compared him to the men who seem certain to be Root's opponents later this year.
"He's busy, almost Australian like in his presence at the crease," he said. "He calls real loud and puts a lot of pressure on the fielders too. He has played really well so far, setting up a platform for the guys behind him, Morgan and Buttler, and we're going to have to come up with some strategies for him at Auckland."
Only briefly did England surrender authority in the match. Anderson and Finn exerted a vice-like grip at the start and although their opponents eventually broke free they could never entirely repair the damage inflicted then.
Anderson took two early wickets and then cleaned up at the end with three more. Finn was quite as effective, however, operating from a smart new short run. It did not hamper his approach and as Cook observed he may actually have been faster than from the longer one. This change in approach has been long in gestation. Finn resisted for long enough but now he has seen that it works there will be nothing to argue about.
Root's amazing start
Joe Root is the first player to pass 30 in his first six ODI innings.
He averages 74.50 with the bat in ODIs and has a strike-rate of 92.83.
The Yorkshire all-rounder also has an ODI economy-rate of 5.42 with his off-breaks. The 22-year-old helped ensure England drew the fourth Test in Nagpur and won the series in India before Christmas with innings of 73 and 20 not out in his first Test. His 73, off 229 balls, was the sixth-longest innings on debut for England in terms of balls faced.
Napier (One Day): England beat New Zealand by eight wickets; England won toss
B J Watling c Cook b Anderson 7/0/0/23/22
H D Rutherford c Cook b Anderson 11/0/2/25/36
K S Williamson b Woakes 33/0/3/47/75
L R P L Taylor c Buttler b Anderson 100/1/9/117/178
G D Elliott c Sub b Finn 23/0/0/30/43
*†B B McCullum c Woakes b Broad 74/4/9/36/43
J E C Franklin c Root b Woakes 1/0/0/5/4
N L McCullum c Buttler b Anderson 7/1/0/3/1
T G Southee b Woakes 2/0/0/3/3
K D Mills not out 3/0/0/3/6
T A Boult c Woakes b Anderson 1/0/0/2/1
Extras (lb3 w3 nb1) 7
Total (48.5 overs) 269
Fall 1-12, 2-19, 3-91, 4-143, 5-243, 6-245, 7-254, 8-261, 9-267.
Bowling J M Anderson 9.5-2-34-5, S T Finn 10-1-33-1, C R Woakes 10-0-68-3, S C J Broad 9-0-69-1, G P Swann 10-0-62-0.
*A N Cook c & b Southee 78/1/7/92/118
I R Bell c Rutherford b Williamson 44/0/5/65/82
I J L Trott not out 65/0/3/73/106
J E Root not out 79/2/7/56/68
Extras (lb1 w3) 4
Total (for 2, 47.4 overs) 270
Fall 1-89, 2-149.
Did not bat E J G Morgan, †J C Buttler, C R Woakes, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson, S T Finn.
Bowling K D Mills 6.4-0-43-0, T A Boult 9-1-55-0, J E C Franklin 5-0-32-0, T G Southee 9-0-54-1, N L McCullum 10-0-46-0, K S Williamson 8-0-39-1.
Umpires C B Gaffaney and R J Tucker.
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