Tough times for the English captain…..
The last time England won a Test was back in September, 2017 when West Indies had toured England for a three-Test series. Ever since then, England have lost an Ashes series followed by a series loss in New Zealand as well in the whites. This has also summarised Joe Root’s captaincy stint so far with the English side. He took over the captain’s armband from Alastair Cook ahead of the Windies series last year and ever since then, not Root not England have managed to have a lot of success on their plate.
England’s winter began with a lot of crisis, mostly related to the team balance before things turned worse. They were thrashed 0-4 Down Under before they were pushed to the back-foot more in the neighbouring tiny country of New Zealand, who took away the two-Test series 1-0. Out of Root’s 13 innings in England’s winter, he failed to convert eight fifties into a big knock or a century, at least. England, anyway, have been suffering from opening woes and apart from that, they still have not found a stable No. 3 batsman. The likes of James Vince was given that crucial role for those two series but Vince could not justify it with his performances.
Meanwhile, England Captain Root has always been reluctant for batting at No. 3 and which is why England were forced to give that batting position to an inexperienced guy like Vince. Ahead of the crucial Pakistan home series, Root was given no option but to take up the role of the No. 3 batsman in the Test side. Earlier, he 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. Moreover, his numbers also defended that because he averaged 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, prior to the Lord’s Test against Pakistan.
Root won the toss and opted to bat, a decision that backfired terribly when Pakistan bowled England out cheaply for 184 runs. Root, batting at No. 3, was dismissed for a 24-ball 4 and that was not a good sign for a player, who had been already hesitating to bat at that slot. However, things changed a bit during England’s second innings. When they came out to bat for the second time, the hosts trailed Pakistan by 179 runs. Once again, the openers failed their side and Root saw himself at the crease as soon as in the second over of the innings.
Following dismissals of Cook and his opening partner Mark Stoneman, who is literally losing his time in the Test team, Dawid Malan joined Root at the crease. Both the players received lives as Pakistan missed a couple of direct hits. Although Malan did not score too many runs, he stuck around, as Root on the other end drove England ahead in the innings. Their approach remained clear and simple; Malan kept rotating strike and Root did all the scoring, as he was the only English batsman, until then, who was able to read Pakistan’s bowling. He scored a boundary from time to time in order to keep the pressure off them.
Although Root fairly did a good job with the bat but the captain once again failed to convert that into a hundred. It is difficult to criticise a batsman, who averages more than 50 in the format but at the same time, it cannot be ignored that Root’s conversion rate of fifties into hundreds is below 25 percent. By doing so, repeatedly, the same thing, Root is risking his spot in the fab four. Fab four includes Kane Williamson, Steven Smith and Virat Kohli along with Root. The other three’s conversion rates are way above Root’s and that has to be a concern for him right now.
Apart from that, Root was criticised for his captaincy too. He has had a year’s experience now and it’s high time he makes the right calls. In Pakistan’s first innings, at one point, Root suddenly was seen fielding at short leg, a move which was thrashed by the pundits. There are only really two positions a captain should find himself: in the slips, where he can see what the ball is doing, or at mid-off, where he can talk to his bowlers. Nevertheless, since England were outplayed by Pakistan in all the departments, the first Test has ended inside four days with the second Test now being a must-win for England.