Sturdy Joe Root plants himself in England picture
Yorkshireman has what it takes to thrive at the highest level, says his county coach Gillespie
Wednesday 19 December 2012
While India were losing their heads in Nagpur, one young Englishman was keeping his so impressively it looked like he had been an international regular for years rather than a 21-year-old making his debut.
Joe Root came to the wicket with England teetering at 119 for 4 in their first innings. By the time his stubbornly impressive vigil had ended 229 balls later, the Yorkshireman had done more than simply steady the ship – he had set England firmly on course for the draw that would seal a famous series triumph.
Watching on back home was his county coach Jason Gillespie, a man who knows a thing or two about precocious talent, having played for Australia in one of the most extraordinary sides in history. He was impressed but far from surprised by Root's effort after he was called into the side as a replacement for Samit Patel for a Test that has left English cricket with a golden glow today as they dive back into the Twenty20 game.
The former Australian fast bowler now believes that Root is ready for the challenges that await him over the next 12 months and beyond, whatever his role in Pune today. "He took the opportunity with both hands, which is the mark of a really good player," says Gillespie. "He has a good head on his shoulders and the pressure was really on him.
"England were 2-1 up in the series and he went in when they were in trouble and in no way out of the woods. Players do get judged on how they handle pressure and although this is just one Test match and you don't want to get carried away, he certainly did everything right."
Former Yorkshire opener Michael Vaughan has already suggested that Root has the quality to not only bat with Alastair Cook at the top of the England order, but to replace him as captain one day.
Gillespie, though, insists that the latest cab off the Yorkshire rank will cope with the expectation in the same way he handled the pressure-cooker atmosphere in Nagpur.
"He's a very level-headed young cricketer," he said. "Obviously I had come to Yorkshire with a fresh pair of eyes and a clear mind. Joe had had a bit of a breakthrough year the season before and what impressed me as soon as I met him was his work ethic and his honesty.
"His honesty in the sense that he knows what he's quite good at and knows what he has to work on. He's willing to take constructive criticism and he takes that well. He looks to improve – that's the most important thing."
It's hard to imagine how he could have bettered his debut, after he followed up his marathon first innings with a composed 20 not out as the series petered out into a welcome draw on the fifth day.
Root's accession to the England side did not just happen overnight, however. The former England under-19 international had been earmarked for the Test side from an early age and in many ways epitomises the new breed of tough young players who have been schooled through the England and Wales Cricket Board's Performance Programme and Lions set-up.
The same could be said for his Yorkshire colleague Jonny Bairstow, who bounced back from his baptism of fire against the West Indies pace attack in his debut series by scoring a fine 95 against South Africa at Lord's last summer.
Gillespie does not necessarily agree that the England sides he played against were "soft" but he does acknowledge the enormous change in attitude in the country's best young cricketers today. "I don't know if soft is the right terminology but what I do know from what I've seen is that Joe puts time and effort into his game and asks good questions," says Gillespie.
"He's not backward in coming forward, he talks when we have team conversations and he's happy to contribute despite being a very young player.
"He's willing to take things on the chin and if he steps out of line he'll stick his hand up and ask how he can get better. These sorts of character traits can build a player. Sometimes a player will say to you that they want to hear honest feedback and a lot of the young guys now really mean that, even if it's not what they want to hear.
"Unfortunately you do get players who say they want honest communication but it's only when they want to hear something good. That's the real difference with players like Joe."
He will need that toughness should he get the call-up to take on Australia next summer but if that comes Gillespie believes Root is more than ready. "He'll relish it," Gillespie says. "He has scored runs for everyone he has played for."
The only man to bat longer than Root on debut was Roger Tolchard, who faced eight more balls against India in Kolkata in January 1977. The Leicestershire man, though, would make just three further appearances. Root is destined to play many more.
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