It's a compliment to be known as England's Aussie, says Joe Root
Batsman enjoying 'every minute' of his fine start in the side which is earning rave reviews
With delicate precision, Joe Root hit his third ball in international cricket through extra cover for three. He drove his 10th crisply in front of square to bring his first boundary.
Those moments facing Piyush Chawla and Pragyan Ojha of India in Nagpur seemed to confirm that England were on to something. It was like watching David Gower all those years ago – 2 June 1978 to be exact – dismissively pulling his first ball in Tests, from Liaqat Ali, for four. You just knew. The idea that 13 December 2012 was the start of a career similarly illustrious is a big one but everything that Root has done then and since suggests style and durability. There have been no hundreds yet, so it is important not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but there have been no failures either.
Root scored 73 in that final Test which added ballast to England's innings when it was most needed and his lowest score in seven one-day innings is 28 not out. He has provided maturity, authority, clarity and probably a few other qualities not necessarily ending in -ity. He looks the part, he manages an innings.
"It's been really enjoyable, I've loved every minute of it," he said here in Queenstown as England enjoyed a day off ahead of their tour match against New Zealand A which precedes the Test series starting next week. "Just being a part of it and representing my country, it's what you want to do growing up. I'm just trying to do things I've always done. It seems to have come off so far."
Everybody around this touring squad talks of how much Root has progressed in the last six months. His new status was authenticated yesterday when he was wheeled out to be interviewed on behalf of sponsors and nobody does that unless they are somebody.
Since breaking into Yorkshire's side as a 20-year-old in 2011 he has been regularly cast as the heir presumptive to a line of magnificent Yorkshire and England opening batsmen – Herbert Sutcliffe, Len Hutton, Geoff Boycott, Michael Vaughan.
But he was still a selectorial punt when he was picked for the tour of India last year. His 2012 season petered out after his accomplished 222 not out against Hampshire in July; there was only one fifty in his last 13 innings. Yet it seemed his duties would predominantly involve nets and drinks carrying when Nick Compton was preferred as Alastair Cook's opening partner. Root's practice time was not wasted. For the last match England changed a winning team, ordaining that he was the man for the job of winning the series.
The other day, New Zealand's captain, Brendon McCullum, said there was something Australian about the way Root handled himself at the crease. "I'll take it as a compliment," said Root. "I'm not a very intimidating bloke to look at so I've got to try and find a way to make sure they know I mean business. I'm quite quiet as well so I need to make sure they can hear me down at the other end."
Root's father Matt played in the same team with a young Vaughan at Sheffield Collegiate club. Root remembers watching from the boundary as a very young boy. By the time he was nine he was picked for the fifths, by 11 he scored his first hundred for his school, by 14 he was in the club first team.
"The thing is, I was so little growing up – I was way behind everyone else – it took me 50 overs to get 50," he said. "A lot of the time I was not out but I just couldn't get it off the square. They'd set a ring field, I wasn't able to get it past them.
"I started to grow from 16 to 18. I had a year, my first year on staff at Yorkshire actually, where I grew about six inches and found my whole technique was wrong. I had to change my whole stance completely just because I'd grown and everything was slightly different. I think that helped me as well."
It is difficult to envisage Root now as a scrawny little kid. He is 6ft tall and he walks like John Wayne in True Grit, bow-legged and deliberate. He confounds this image by patrolling the boundary more like Usain Bolt where, allied to his large, safe hands he has performed sterling service this winter. Vaughan rather upped the ante last week by saying Root would be England's next captain. True, he had been named as captain of England Lions this winter until senior duties came along but it still seemed a bit premature.
Three things are possible imminently: that he will continue in his role at No 6 against New Zealand; that he will open the batting in place of Compton, which would be a hard-nosed call but would firmly look to the future; or that he could be omitted because the selectors think somebody else, his fellow Yorkshireman Jonny Bairstow, say, is more suited to the particular matter in hand.
The last of those is the least likely. Root really does seem to have put down roots.
Stats magic: Root in numbers
79: Best ODI score, hit in the second match against New Zealand
30: First player to score 30-plus runs in each of his first six ODI innings
93.00: Test batting average after one match, against India in December
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