“His hundred – yet another hundred in a win – spoke of the class and the dedication. It spoke of his unerring passion towards improving himself, and though his conversion rate is a sorry figure – he has 15 tons and 41 fifties – one can be certain that Root will conquer all his demons, one at a time”
“Sometimes you need to get lost to find your way.”
Being touted as a future superstar can be overwhelming. It can be exhilarating; whilst being a burden. It can either force a player to give it his all in every match or it can allow complacency to creep in. But one thing is for sure; if neither over-confidence or a boastful attitude will get you down, the excessive scrutiny and the constant eye-balling definitely will.
Martin Crowe, former New Zealand skipper, was unaware of the responsibility that he was burdening Kane Williamson, Virat Kohli, Steven Smith and Joe Root with four years ago when he termed them as Test cricket’s future Fab Four. For the next two years, till August 2016, the Kiwi skipper and the currently-banned Smith were racing away ahead, with a batting average of 77.28 and 76.05, respectively. While Smith had scripted 11 centuries in the interim, Williamson had 7 to his name and with Kohli and Root no where close to the duo, it had seemed like the battle for the top had narrowed down massively.
However, the next two years saw the Indian pushing his weight to emerge as possibly one of the best Test players that this era has seen. Smith’s on-field dominance has taken a beating after the ball-tampering saga unfolded, which leaves Williamson and Root in the comparison. With the Kiwi averaging 52.81 since November 2016 and the Englishman faring the worst of the three, averaging 46.65, cricketing experts were hand-in-hand when it came to dissecting Root’s poor conversion rate, his persistent back issues, the tendency to overbalance himself towards the off side that sees him play across the line of straight deliveries, which results in many LBWs, or just the pressure of leading a high-profile team that can take a toll, considering the history and the aura that the sport has in England.
However, it is not to say that Root is not a magician. He walks out with a firm game plan – he will square drive a ball only if it is full. He will open up his stance against a left-arm seamer and be careful to not drive him outside the off stump. By playing him straighter through mid on, the bowlers end up trying to get him out LBW, which allows him more freedom to play the straight drive. His movements are breathtaking and along with a tremendous back-foot game, Root has managed to script his legacy in Test cricket.
However, the player who is known for playing with low-risk shots and for playing the ball late is often prone to inconsistency, with the hundred that he smashed against India earlier in September this year coming after 13 long months. In this interim (From July to September), Kohli averaged a phenomenal 74.45 with the bat, with 6 100+ scores, while Smith, who has not played since February, scoring at a rate of 63.20 in three Tests. Root then was fizzling away and it needed a couple of big totals from his bat to shut the naysayers.
His composed 125 at The Oval, coming on the back of a 68 against Pakistan and an 80 against India at Birmingham did break the shackles, but with the innings being played on familiar territory, doubts over his skills had not evaporated just yet. As the English team moved to Sri Lanka, it offered Root an opportunity of silencing the critics once and for all, though his unsettled approach in the first Test at Galle, where he preferred going for every ball even when a calmer attitude was required did him no good.
It was at Pallekele that Root 2.0 emerged. After being forthright in admitting that England needed to change the way Test cricket would henceforth be played – in response to their dismal overseas record – he went about playing aggressively yet cautiously; patiently yet with dominance. After the blunder at Galle, Root and largely the England team, eliminated all the high-risk shots and instead focused on sweeping the spinners – a dying art in cricket indeed.
After beginning on an ominous note – he played and missed a few, edged a couple of deliveries to no-mans land and was caught in the middle of a few LBW appeals, but he rode through them all, surviving the early jitters to literally sweep his way to possibly a career-defining century. He thumped down the ground, he cut with disdain, reverse swept like a man on a mission and upped the run-rate, getting 72 runs in 82 balls in a session.
His hundred – yet another hundred in a win – spoke of the class and the dedication. It spoke of his unerring passion towards improving himself, and though his conversion rate is a sorry figure – he has 15 tons and 41 fifties – one can be certain that Root will conquer all his demons, one at a time.