Joe Root, already hailed as one of England’s finest cricketers, is stepping into a new role when he walks out to face South Africa at Lord’s, that of leading the national Test team. There are reasons for the Yorkshire batsman turned skipper to be nervous. Two of England’s most successful leaders, Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss had their captaincy careers curtailed after a South African series at home.
If that is not enough reason to be fidgety, Root has little captaincy experience and even earned a nickname of ‘Craptain’ after he was at the helm for Yorkshire when Middlesex chased down 472 with seven wickets to spare. Besides all this, being the best batsman in the team and skippering them is no easy task. Ask AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli or Steven Smith.
While Alastair Cook, his predecessor, was a defensive captain with a pragmatic approach, Root is more flamboyant as a batsman and is expected to carry that trait into his captaincy. All in all, it’s a nervous week for England’s new generation hero, Joe Root. Here we try to break down his challenges into five.
1. Managing the senior players
Every new captain’s biggest headache is man-managing the senior players in the line-up. MS Dhoni’s biggest success was the manner in which he handled an Indian team that had Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh. Managing such a long line of senior players is no easy task.
Root has his former skipper, Cook, in the team along with the likes of Stuart Broad and James Anderson. While chances for ego clashes are slim given that these senior pros are absolute gentlemen with a professional approach to the game, Root would do well to take their advice on the field as and when required. Shying away from digging into their knowledge can be the biggest mistake he can commit.
2. Maintaining his stature as a batsman
Root has little experience captaining a side and the added pressure of captaincy could affect his position as one of the Fab Four in World cricket alongside Kane Williamson, Steven Smith and Virat Kohli. The newly appointed England skipper needs to separate captaincy from his batting and concentrate in channelising his focus on batting when at the crease.
What the other three in the Fab Four have done brilliantly is not letting captaincy affect their batting. Root should look to take a leaf out of their book in terms of maintaining standards with the bat. His predecessors, Nasser Hussain, Andrew Strauss and Michael Vaughan endured difficult times with the bat after getting elevated to captaincy. He cannot afford the same being England’s fulcrum in Tests and will need to continue fulfilling that role to perfection. With his Yorkshire teammate, Gary Ballance, returning to the Test side, Root could move back down to no.4, a position he has had considerable success in.
3. Getting the best out of the all-rounders
England have been exceptional in producing all-rounders in all forms of the game in the past few years. The likes of Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid are strong figures in the England side and managing them while getting the most out of them will pose a stiff challenge to Root.
Stokes is a dynamic, hot-headed, aggressive all-rounder and the captain can have a huge impact on such players. Take for instance the success of Andrew Flintoff under Michael Vaughan. The former England skipper played a huge role in making Flintoff a threatening force in Test cricket. Root should take inspiration from his former Yorkshire hero, Vaughan, when managing Stokes. Similarly, how he manages the spinning all-rounders in this series, Moeen Ali and Liam Dawson, will also come under scrutiny. Woakes, as and when he is available should walk into the Test line-up.
4. Handling the pace bowlers
In James Anderson and Stuart Broad, Root has two reliable and experienced front-line seamers. Both have been exceptional for England in the past decade and deserve to lead the attack. However, injuries and age have taken a toll on their effectiveness and while England might be able to squeeze out a couple of years from them, identifying the next in line and grooming them will be an arduous task.
Root has options in aplenty with Chris Woakes, Toby Roland-Jones, the Curran brothers, Jake Ball, Mark Wood and Liam Plunkett all putting forward their cases. Identifying the leaders in the group and grooming them will have to happen during Test matches and Root will need to decide what combinations work best for him in Test matches.
5. Maintaining England’s success at home and winning Tests in the sub-continent
England have been a thunderous force at home in Tests of late and maintaining that will be one of Root’s top priorities. South Africa will pose a stiffer challenge than the other recent teams to tour, meaning the newbie skipper has little time to get accustomed to his role. The Ashes is also scheduled later this year and Root will have to ensure that he is fully comfortable in the role before the historic series.
In recent months, England endured tough tours to Bangladesh and India. They have never been great travellers in the sub-continent and this would be one area of focus for Joe Root once he conquers his initial challenges at home. Turning England into world-beaters will inevitably pose a sub-continental assignment and Root will need to overcome this. If he will, is a question that will linger on until the tour happens. For now, it is Root against the best travellers in the past decade, South Africa.