Joe Root declares himself ready to be Lions king


England's future starts today. Joe Root, the 22-year-old Yorkshire batsman, will lead England Lions against New Zealand at the start of what may be a long apprenticeship.

In the past six months, Root has become the new, fresh face of English cricket. Selected for England's tour of India in the wake of Andrew Strauss's retirement, he was startlingly propelled into the team for the final Test and then swiftly established himself as a batsman of substance.

Despite the glaring lack of a century on his international CV, he is now considered to be part of the furniture. By choosing him as captain of their B team in front of vastly more experienced players, the selectors clearly have other things in mind for him.

"I am still the same bloke I was six months ago really; just six months older with a bit more experience under my belt," he said at Grace Road, where the tourists play their second and final warm-up game today before the opening Test at Lord's. "I will try to be as level as possible and cricket is the best leveller as a sport that you can play in. I will always try to stay the same bloke I have been and that shouldn't really change at all."

In his shy public demeanour and his sober style of play, Root does not automatically scream captaincy material. But it has become well-known that he is a frequent and thoughtful contributor to dressing room discussion and a keen student of the game.

Andrew Gale, his captain at Yorkshire, observed last week how he spoke with wisdom well beyond his years. But when Gale was out with injury last year, it was Root's contemporary, Azeem Rafiq, who captained the county.

"The more you play the more you pick up, the more confidence you get to say things that are on your mind," said Root. "I just want to keep contributing to Yorkshire winning games of cricket, and if I think I can say something that might help him as a captain and help the team then, I will try to express that now."

Root has been in prime form with the bat with a century and a double century in the Championship. But he will still bat at number three for the Lions with Varun Chopra and Michael Carberry opening. Root will probably bat at five for England in the Tests.

It is important that Root and his team ensure New Zealand have been in a contest over the next four days. They won a little too comfortably in Derby last Sunday.

Both Trent Boult and Tim Southee come into the tourists' side as does Ross Taylor. Their XI is likely to be that which plays in the first Test.

But their captain Brendon McCullum said: "The guys who played the other day performed well and put pressure on the incumbents and we haven't bedded down our Test team just yet."

But if they have to make any changes, Root will have made something go badly wrong.

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