When the chips are down, which England batter will you trust and why it’s Joe Root?
Being the captain of the England team is never easy. If it’s the Test side, the job is possibly more difficult. There’s a rich culture of loving Test cricket and the experience of doing well in the longest format. Unlike other countries, Test cricket is more important to England than any other format. At least that was the case until 2015.
But even with the success of the white-ball teams, Test cricket remains a thing of joy for the English fan. To lead the English Test side is possibly the biggest privilege a cricketer growing up in England can have. But there hasn’t been a more difficult time to lead the England Test team. Yet, Joe Root does that. He has done everything possible to stand up for this role.
Growing up in Yorkshire, he would have dreamt of playing for England. Being from a place that has produced batting maestros like Geoffrey Boycott and Michael Vaughan, the standards set for him were pretty high, to begin with. But he stood up to it. He learned the craft. When world cricket saw him for the first time at the U-19 World Cup 2010, everyone instantly knew something was special about him.
He made his debut in 2012 on England’s tour of India and started his career with an impressive 70-odd on a turning track in Nagpur. That knock helped England draw the match and take home a series from India for the first time in 28 years. It happened with possibly England’s best ever batting line-up. Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, and England’s best ever wicket keeper-batter, Matt Prior. He was just the new kid on the block. Eight and half years later, he is all England has.
Since his debut, no one has played more Test matches than him. With time, England’s batting greats kept leaving one by one. In an era where the focus shifted to building a name for themselves in white-ball cricket, England somehow stopped producing batsmen who were capable of bossing Test cricket. Gone were the days where they had just five batsmen with a Test average of more than 40 just hanging around in the dressing room.
Most runs for England in Tests
At no time in England’s recent history did their batting rely so heavily on one man. The reliance is so heavy that it is almost like everyone else has to bat around him to manage a reasonable total for the team. In the Nottingham Test against India, the case was pretty much the same. In the first innings, he batted with a strike rate of around 60 while others struggled to handle India’s pace battery. Once he was dismissed, they folded like a pack of cards. In the second innings, he was determined to make it big.
When England lost two wickets early on day four, it almost seemed that the inevitable was here. Another collapse perhaps, everyone around Trent Bridge thought. But, once he arrived on the wicket, the momentum shifted. On a wicket where scoring was difficult on the first few days, he made batting look easy. It helped that the conditions eased a little, and that should not take anything from his knock. His stroke play was as good as ever. It was everything that English conditions demand.
While others kept getting in and getting out, he managed to dominate the Indian bowlers. Batting with a strike rate of more than 63 (for the first 100 balls, it was 75), it was he who got the ball rolling on day three. Vaughan said after day three that if any team can win this Test from there it was India. His fellow Yorkshire man was out there to prove him wrong.
At different points in the day, it might have seemed that England were doing well in the middle. But, everyone knew that they were a wicket away from a collapse. It takes a lot to be in the middle knowing that everyone else around is almost certain your team is going to fail. And by no means, England’s batting problems have been solved. But, he is just the key that holds them all together at this moment.
Most runs in Tests since 2018
As he stroked a ball straight down the ground for a four, he reached the three-figure mark. His first in England since 2018. Incidentally, his last in England was against India in a Test match which saw the last batting legend of England’s glorified Test era retire. Once Cook was gone, there was a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. One can argue, saying that there’s Ben Stokes. Yes, he is probably the best all-rounder in Test cricket right now, but he is not the one who is expected to deliver with the bat every time he goes on the field. He is not the one who has an average close to 50 in an era where making runs have been quite difficult. There is no doubt that Stokes is possibly England’s best-ever but his role is different. The expectations are different.
In 2021, though, that young boy from Yorkshire is carrying the hopes of his country on his shoulders. Any given day in recent times when England have batted well, it has been Root, who has been there in the middle. Maybe it’s a little far-fetched, but in the few years to come, one might look back at this time and find parallels to the time when India heavily relied on Sachin Tendulkar.
When he got to his century in Nottingham on day four, his real emotions came out. He was jumping in the air. At that very moment, there was a boy who might have grown wanting to become the best batsman he can be. One can only wonder what it takes to make a man, go from wanting to be that to be the most dependable captain and batsman of his national team, carrying a team on his own. The dependence was visible in England’s scorecard. 18, 28, 6, 109, 30, 25, 17, 32, 15, 0 and 0. Those were the contributions of every England batsmen.
The 109 was his 21st century in Test cricket. He will probably get 10 or 15 more, who knows. But this one will be special. That jump of joy said he had longed to hear the cheers of the English fans as he went past his century. He got into this match without a score of 50 or more in his last 11 Test innings, his longest drought in Tests so far. The joy on his face was the feeling of getting out of the rut.
Most runs for England in Tests as captain
There is no doubt that this is going to be his toughest summer as the English captain. He has just lost his first Test series at home. He might lose another one. There’s an Ashes later this year, which is another series that England might lose. But if there’s one man, India and Australia will have to get past to beat England it’s him.
In 2021, it almost seems that he is standing alone in the middle with a high-school boyish charm and a bright smile. Despite what he wins, losses, scores or doesn’t, his legacy should show that he weathered it all in possibly English cricket’s toughest hour in Tests. He is England’s and Yorkshire’s finest. He is Joe Root.