It was widely predicted that Joe Root would be an international opening batsman for the ages. Here was a Yorkshireman to extend the exalted litany: Herbert Sutcliffe, Len Hutton, Geoffrey Boycott, Michael Vaughan. What tosh that is becoming.
Root has diverted from the allocated path. In less than a year he has been transformed into a member of England’s middle order, usually cast as the glory boys, in both Test and one-day formats.
The amendment to the career design has been much more effective than anyone could have imagined or planned. This year he has accrued three Test hundreds at No 5 and two 50-over hundreds at No 4, each scored with a burgeoning command and purpose. Root has looked like a natural buccaneer in both roles and his form is such that the notion of England actually winning the World Cup early next year ceases to be entirely fanciful.
“Having come through last winter in Australia – the way I approached things out there, I just tried to take as much out of it as possible,” he said yesterday at his home ground of Headingley. “I knew that [tour] didn’t work for me, I got very internal, didn’t play many shots, just looked to survive a lot of the time. I just didn’t go anywhere and I had to go out there, express myself, be aggressive when I could be and absorb pressure when I couldn’t. It was up to me to counter-attack when the right opportunity came. I got that balance right this past summer.”
There was no far-reaching vision about where Root has ended up. Thrust initially into the middle order as a Test apprentice in India two years ago, he went on the Ashes tour last winter as the nailed-on opening partner of Alastair Cook, for the winter and so far as anyone could tell, the foreseeable future.
When Cook was forced to miss the opening tour game with a stiff back everything changed. Michael Carberry played well enough to be picked for the Tests, Root moved down the order and if it was not an immediate raging triumph it had obvious merits. There were other openers out there. Root possesses obvious class and his natural tendency to reside on the back foot might not be so exposed further down the order.
“It’s something I really enjoyed this summer,” he said. “It might be a slight change of rhythm but more than anything the game is set up when you come into play. You walk into a situation rather than set the situation. That meant when I was out there I had absolute clarity on what I wanted to do.”
Root’s berth in the one-day side is likely to be at four, where he has scored two hundreds, the first a highly controlled innings in Bridgetown when he had a broken thumb and the second, last time out, a glittering affair at Headingley in September which allowed England to secure a much-needed win against India. Not 24 until next month, he is in all the ways that matter a senior member of the England dressing room and it is said in the corridors close to where such decisions are made that he is a future captain.
Unsurprisingly, he is a robust yet automatic supporter of the present incumbent, Cook, whose captaincy cup did not often runneth over last season. Root was unequivocal. “He’s our leader, we have got absolute respect for him, and we’ve got his back,” he said.
In cricketing terms the Sri Lankan leg of the winter for which England depart a week on Monday will have little bearing on the World Cup which they start against Australia in Melbourne next February. Conditions of pitches and weather and the particular skills demanded are poles apart. But Root and England see a broader picture.
“We’re very capable. The big thing for us now is we have this massive period of just playing one-day cricket and we’ll have opportunities to find our best formula, our best side, and get used to playing together.
“We know we’ve not been good enough for the last six months and this period now is about getting it right and making sure we’re in the best shape possible for 14 February.”
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