For the last couple of months, many in the England cricket fraternity were not happy regarding Alastair Cook’s captaincy. After the dismal show in Bangladesh and India, Cook could feel, it was time to step down from the coveted post and concentrate more on his batting. Cook stepped down as England’s captain and the baton had been passed to Joe Root, who made his Test debut under captain Cook five years ago.
How good a captain would be Root? Will he a defensive captain or an attacking one? What kind of challenges he might face as a captain?
Mr. Cricket has more…..
“I feel privileged, humbled and very excited.”
This was the first official reaction of Joe Root after being named as the captain of England Test team.
But is this new role going to be the best Laurel in Root’s cricketing career? Or will it be an acid test for the most promising batsman of the current English squad?
After the disaster in India Tour, where England team could not save the whitewash in Test Series, it was almost certain that Alistair Cook will step down from captaincy. Also, it was not a surprise that Root will be chosen as the new captain. Root has never been one to shy away from a challenge. But the England captaincy takes a lot out of a man. After four years in the job, Cook also realized that. He was too exhausted to carry on.
Joe Root takes over a team who, for all their manifest potential, have been no better than meddling in the last two years. Since the start of 2015, England have won 12 Tests while losing 14. Cook had to admit that the team “stagnated”.
And what Root has to do first is to lead the team out of this stagnant position.
The challenge for Root will be to find the right balance; he will be more inclined to allow his team the freedom of expression that they crave. Moreover, he needs to realize, in Test Cricket a bit of bloody minded approach is also necessary.
Root’s lack of experience as captain will also haunt him. He has only captained in four first class matches. He played for England’s Under 19 teams, but never led them. Instead, the job was done by either Root’s Yorkshire teammate Azeem Rafiq or the Warwickshire all-rounder Paul Best. Likewise, when Root played for the England Lions’s in 2011-2012, it was James Taylor, who was in charge of the side. Even Root himself recently admitted, “my experience at the Senior level has remained rather limited”.
Captain Root has a also a big role to play in improving the performance of the bowlers, especially while playing abroad. James Anderson is obviously the key bowler for England, with his efficiency both with the new and old ball. Outside the Subcontinent, he, perhaps, is the best bowler of reverse swing. But later this year, Anderson turns 35. He is also suffering from some minor injuries. His fitness is not very satisfactory and as England have a packed schedule, it is very unlikely that Anderson goes on to play all the matches for England this year.
Apart from Anderson, no other pacer can convince the newly appointed test captain. With Steven Finn and Chris Woakes, the England pace attack can be lethal in English condition. But it is altogether less effective abroad. For example, Woakes has only 8 wickets in 7 tests abroad. Moreover, England is lacking at least one world class spinner who can fit the shoes of Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann.
Root is considered as one of the four best batsmen in the world, along with Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Steve Smith. It may be coincidental, but all of them are captains of their respective teams. While Kohli, Williamson and Smith have managed the switch without any negative impact on their batting, it is now up to Root to do the same. Since taking charge of the team, Kohli’s test batting average has increased by 26, Smith’s by 22 and Williamson’s by six.
Mindful of all that, one of the first decisions Andrew Strauss took when he became England’s director of Cricket two years ago was to make Root the vice captain instead of Ian Bell. Strauss even told that, “he’s got outstanding leadership capabilities and we need him to start thinking more as a captain.”
When Root was named the captain of the squad after Cook stepped down, there were no real alternatives for Strauss or ECB to chose from. The bowlers, Anderson and Stuart Broad, are too old and cannot be expected to be ever present. Ben Stokes does not need to be shackled, Moeen Ali is so self-effacing, he would probably never put himself into bowl.
The anticipation is that Root will instinctively be a more aggressive captain than his predecessor. He has the temperament. Even Kohli recently told, “Of whatever I’ve seen of him as a player and the way he conducts himself on the field, I think he has been a great batsman for England and I think he is equipped enough to handle the job.”
Root has a long and valuable period of almost five months to finalise his approach and strategy as the Test captain as England will play the next test series in July. But it will be an acid test for Root on home soil because the opponent will be a fierce South Africa.
Only time will tell whether Root can overcome all the odds and start with a bang.