Joe Root, at the age of seven, attracted his schoolmates when a giant butterfly landed on his shoulders. The boy from Yorkshire was surrounded by enthusiastic kids at the Tropical Butterfly House. Then, he was found holding a cricket bat at the age of two days! As a cricketer at the school level, he would attract everyone with his power of resistance. At home, he would be practising shadow shots by holding a bat in front of the mirror and in those days, his routine was limited to eating and practising in the nets. His activities attracted the people surrounding him, he had always been the centre of attraction and if I am not wrong, a born leader is more often the centre of attraction and hints such at a very early age.
Blue eyes, silky hair, polite nature and the boyish smile on a baby face have always hide the tough thinking cricketer within him. But his qualities as a cricketer never remained hidden for long, but it was discovered at an early age. Root was awarded a scholarship at the age of 13. Kevin Sharp, the former County coach said, “There was something special about him: he listened and asked the right questions. He already thought like an adult”.
Root led the Youth team at Collegiate. He was leading the side because he was already a very thinking and innovative captain apart from the best batsman of the team.
Daniel Bringham wrote at Cricket Monthly, “While playing for adult teams he would advise the skipper and, unusually for one so young, set his own fields when bowling – first medium pace, then offspin. When batting with senior players, many three times his age, he would always be talking between overs, saying to them, “Right, this is what we have to do”.
These are unique qualities and are much-needed to evolve as a great cricketer. Root certainly has evolved as one of the best cricketers of modern times alongside Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and AB de Villiers.
The first time I witnessed him five years ago in India, his technique and assured-presence at the crease, gave me the impression, he would go on to improve, improve and improve for England in the upcoming days. And certainly, I was not wrong, but I was not sure whether he would be the ideal person to replace Alastair Cook – who had to step down after failing to overcome his defensive mindset and a frustrating lean-patch during the tour in subcontinent last year.
Maybe I was not well aware of his abilities which he showed at a very young age. The cricketing fraternity in England knew how good captain Root could be and so far, Root has only impressed everyone not only with his man-management and pressure-handling capabilities but the ability to innovate when nothing is happening and read the situation deeply and go for the right moves.
Root is an attacking and innovative captain.
We could see his attacking captaincy in England and he brought the same attacking flair in Australia as well.
Brilliant captaincy at The Gabba on Day 2
On Day 2, Australia halted England’s further progress. Mitchell Starc and co, found their mojo – hit the right length at last and triggered a collapse. England were all out for 302, but when Australia came out to bat, they found the going tough. The English pacers were right on the money from word go and wickets kept on tumbling at a regular interval – extra lift from back-of -a-length outside off posed a huge threat.
While Australia were reeling against the English bowlers, Root was making things tough for the hosts with his captaincy.
Firstly, Root’s decision to engage Moeen Ali in the ninth over when the ball was still hard and new for James Anderson and Stuart Broad to utilise. But what made Root to go for Moeen was the presence of two left-handers at the crease. An Offspinner always poses a threat to the southpaws and Usman Khawaja has always been a soft target against right-arm orthodox. In the third ball of eleventh over, Ali trapped Khawaja lbw and Root’s innovative move to engage Ali paid off.
Secondly, he smartly used Chris Woakes as the stock bowler and replacement of Ben Stokes. While bowling, Stokes brings on a lot of raw energy with his aggression and deceptive pace. He doesn’t fetch a lot of wickets but always helps to maintain the pressure at one end. Root used Whoakes in a similar fashion. Woakes clocked around 87-90 mph and his deliveries were mostly around the ribcage area like Neil Wagner – highly effective kinds of stuff to put chills in the spine and create the platform for taking wickets.
Thirdly, keeping short midwicket against David Warner, despite knowing the fact, he is a very good player on the onside and on the backfoot. Dawid Malan was kept in that position only to stare at Warner and his bat. Root noticed how Warner was gaining his momentum by smothering boundaries and thus thought, he might get carried away if the length drops short. Jake Ball dragged his length to a shorter one in the fourth ball of 20th over and Warner played it neither on the back nor on the front, failed to keep it down and holed out to short midwicket.
Finally, Root’s field setting was absolutely up to the mark throughout the day. For Steve Smith, he kept a leg slip to pressurize him more. It reminded me of Douglas Jardine. The English pacers understood what his captain wanted from them and thus, banged in short and extracted bounce from a good length in and around middle and off so that Smith falls while attempting to duck, pull or hook.
Then, Jimmy went round the wicket with a leg slip in place and two slips and a gully against Shaun Marsh. The leg slip was kept to fool the batsmen as the plan was to move the cherry away from the batsman and kiss the edge.
With Marsh and Smith exhibiting resolve and stitching a partnership to drag Australia out of the fire, Root decided to make things happen. He kept three fielders on the offside facing towards Marsh from short mid-off and mid-off. The plan was to instill mental intimidation and attempt Marsh to play a false stroke and script his end.
Certainly, Root’s captaincy had been praiseworthy.
At the end of the day, Australia ended with without any further trouble but their going won’t be easier on Day 3.