It has been a chastening winter for all of England’s cricketers in India. Heavy defeat in the Test match series was followed up by more disappointment in an enthralling ODI series and has come as a huge blow to a side seemingly on an upward curve. The dominance of Virat Kohli, now captain in the shorter form of the game for India, has been instrumental in their success and whilst amassing 840 runs at an average of just over 93, he has hopefully provided England’s premier batsman, Joe Root with plenty to consider.
The Test match captaincy looms larger now than ever before for Root with current incumbent, Alastair Cook holed up in a boardroom somewhere with Commander Strauss debating and no doubt outlining Root’s next steps as an international player whilst the man himself now has a few months to prepare himself for the impending Champions Trophy, a home summer schedule of cricket followed by the Ashes in Australia. Not a time for half measures.
Secondly and perhaps most pertinently, Root now faces a battle with himself and his own demons. He is without a doubt the most talented batsman England have produced in my lifetime. The pure skill on display every time he arrives at the wicket suggests a touch of genius and he does it in whatever format he plays in. When he bats like this he ensures that attention is focused on him and his opponents know that his wicket is the most vital of all England’s players. However, he is not delivering enough match winning scores for a man of his unquestioned ability.
His now great rival Kohli faced similar issues in 2012 when his consistency was questioned and he began to understand that the demands placed on him, by himself first and foremost, required more than just ability.
After playing with AB De Villiers in the IPL he initially became aware that his fitness levels were not even close to that of the great South African. His efforts intensified on all aspects of his game and his stats begin to reflect this in 2013 and they have steadily improved from then on. What we witness now is a man who is averaging over 50 in every format of the game and a man who has become the greatest target chaser the game has probably ever known.
What he displayed throughout the Test series is a hunger to score runs and particularly big runs. This is a man who scored has scored three double hundreds since taking over the captaincy from MS Dhoni and a man who is now the most feared and respected batsman in the game.
Root’s performance in India has seen him contribute 623 runs in his seven games at an average of just under 52. Whilst this is incredibly impressive statistically it is only when you look at the breakdown of his stats that the real story presents itself.
He has reached 50 six times but has only converted this start onto a hundred once. Meanwhile Kohli has only reached 50 three times but has got three hundreds and one of those was a double which ensured that his side won the series.
What Root hasn’t yet mastered is how to kick on and make match winning contributions which is what separates the all-time greats from the very goods. You always get the feeling that he will make a pretty score in a couple of hours but will then play a reckless shot and be on his way back to the pavilion. The cheeky chap everyone sees off the field appears to manifest once his confidence is at its fullest and unfortunately for him it usually ends with a painful walk back to the dressing room.
That hunger to score big runs is what has separated the likes of Brian Lara and Kumar Sangakkara from the rest. It is that willingness to bat all day, accumulating runs and ensuring that you completely exhaust the opponent mentally and physically in order to dominate the match. Root has scored 250 before and has made telling contributions in big games which has enabled his side to win games -but it is those tough tours and tough series that ‘daddy hundreds’ are needed.
Could the added responsibility as captain provide this determination to bat for longer spells and amass bigger scores? Only time will tell on that front but the evidence provided by Kohli and to a lesser extent by Steve Smith in Australia, the added burden seems to have turned into a positive. When you see Root when he initially arrives at the crease he looks more at ease than any of his peers but what they have in reserve is determination and stubbornness.
It seems likely that 2017 will be the turning point of Joe Root’s career at some stage and it seems likely that he will have little say on when this added responsibility will be thrust upon him but only he can decide how good he wants to be. Everything is at his finger tips but he must learn to apply himself and concentrate for longer periods.
By Andy Hunter