Joe Root at number three is the right choice!
What does a coach do when the captain says “I want to bat at No. 4,” and the the coach wants him to bat at No. 3?
This was exactly the crisis England were facing ever since Joe Root was made the Test skipper in 2017. He had his own reasons. His numbers have suggested that either of No. 4 or No. 5 suited him more than batting at No. 3. He has an average of 52.56 at No. 4 in 26 Tests, 73.12 at No. 5 in 17 Tests to 43.96 at No. 3 in 17 Tests. But cricket is a team sport; Root could not have thought about just himself for a very long time. England have been in a situation where they have not solved the problem of finding a player to stabilise the innings after the loss of the first wicket.
All this while, Root had suggested that since he was new to captaincy, he needed a bit more time to shift his spot to No. 3. Batting at either No. 4 or No. 5, it would give him enough time to switch his mind from captaincy in the field to batting. However, more than a year has passed since Root took up the captaincy and certainly is in a way better position to handle these team crisis. In addition to that, he scored his career-best 254 against Pakistan batting at No. 3 so that as well helped Root to finally stand up for the team, in terms of his batting position.
“I think it’s an opportunity for me to take on a bit more responsibility at the top of the order. I’ve had a year in the captaincy now and I feel I’ve gained enough experience to feel comfortable doing that,” Root said recently.
“For me it was getting used to the role of captain and making sure I could separate the two and make sure my full focus was on my batting when it came around. I feel that I’m able to do that now and will go out to try to set the tone and score as many runs as I can from that position,” Root added.
The squad announced for Pakistan series saw axing of James Vince and the return of Jos Butler, who is close friends with Root. The England skipper had been waiting to bring Butler back into the team; Butler’s recent IPL form helped him return to the white-jersey squad after a long time. In order to fit Butler in the XI and push Jonny Bairstow down to No. 5 or 6, Root was left with no option but to bat at No. 3, which he has genuinely accepted it.
England recently played New Zealand in two-Test series, where Root had batted at No. 3 in the first Test at Auckland. However, his scores of 0 and 51 disturbed him before he decided to bat at No. 4 again in the second Test in Christchurch. More than creating the fuss about a batting position, Root will have to work on getting back to dominance in Test cricket. Root, who has reached 50 or crossed 50 for a total of 52 times in his Test career, has managed to convert his knock into a century only for 13 times. Out of his six 150-plus scores, he has managed to convert that into a double hundred only two times and these conversion stats don’t go in hand in hand with his talent and potential as a Test batsman.
Root, Steven Smith, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson are famously known as the Fab Four of the current generation. If we consider the conversion rate of each of these, Kohli stands on the top with almost 57 percent and Root at the bottom with a poor 25 percent conversion rate. While Smith’s is a near 49 and Williamson’s almost 41. All of these are the captains of their respective Test sides as well. While Kohli has a talented No. 3 batsman Chesteshwara Pujara, so he can afford to come in at No.4. New Zealand Captain Williamson himself comes to bat at No. 3, taking the responsibility to bring his side back on track on an early fall of first wicket. Only Smith and Root do not bat at No. 3 despite their sides not having a suitable No. 3 batsman.
Take the example of Viv Richards and Ricky Ponting – two of the greatest batsmen in the history of the game – both batted at No. 3 and were also the captain of West Indies and Australia respectively. The top-order must include three of the best batsmen of the team and especially the No. 3 position demands the inclusion of the best and most reliable player of the side.
The upcoming series against Pakistan is the perfect opportunity for Root to move up to No. 3. The conditions will be in his favour, courtesy of the home series. He certainly knows that batting at No. 3 does not require any different characteristic. He is the best player of England and all he has to do is keep his hunger alive to score runs go about his batting the same way he has been doing all this while. The last time Root played against Pakistan in the whites, he registered his career-best Test score. While England are ranked No. 5, Pakistan are 7th and both the sides will aim to better their numbers going into the upcoming two-Test series and Root’s performance will surely be vital in deciding the result of the series.