Some Daffodils sprung up outside my kitchen window recently. Encouraged by unseasonably warm weather in March, they flowered. Ah, spring is upon us. Feel the sun warm the back of your neck. They’ve since withered. They cling on, their shrivelled petals omitting a dulled, apologetic shade of yellow. Their crispy demeanour reminded me of Joe Root’s England captaincy. The daffodils pointed in a direction we were not yet ready to turn. They tricked us when the going was unexpectedly easy, but once the temperature turned, they disappeared as quickly as they appeared.
Root’s time as captain of England’s Test team is up. The Fat Lady cleared her throat in Australia and was in full voice in Grenada. This sorry husk of an England side is out of ideas and out of time. Like the daffodils, however, Root is merely the flower that we see. The system that encouraged him out into the limelight, ill equipped to deal with the conditions he faced, is very much responsible.
England can cut the head off the flower and hope that it regrows, but the reality is that a new bulb needs planting in its place. From Tom Harrison through Andrew Strauss through Paul Collingwood and his coaching team through a meek batting line up through a woeful bowling attack: Joe Root is merely the most obviously eye-catching part of this sorry operation.
I’m not necessarily anti-Root as captain. Average captains can be elevated by having brilliant players to call upon, see R. Ponting. In Root’s time of need, he stood out as a jewel in a crown of thorns. He was at least trying to lead by example, as 1700 runs in 2021 attest to.
Sure, he’s not exactly Mike Brearley. Nor is he Alastair Cook. He looks like a man who is trying, a man groping for ideas in the dark. You need a bowling attack to help you with your work, something he hasn’t had for the last year. England were so comprehensively out bowled by India, New Zealand and Australia that they were on a hiding to nothing. A weak batting line up was then exposed to attacking fields and world class attacks.
Australia could afford to sit on James Anderson, Ollie Robinson and Stuart Broad before tucking into the buffet once Chris Woakes, Jack Leach and Ben Stokes were called upon. No such luxury for England. There were no freebies.
To what extent is this Root’s fault? Debate will rage. Undoubtedly Leach was handled poorly. England’s selection has been muddled for a long time, seemingly intent on repeating the white ball heroics in the Test arena. The trouble is, a white ball player a Test cricketer doth not make.
Then there was the intent to use the 2021 home summer as Ashes preparation. On what planet they though they could go to Australia and win is unclear. I’d like some of their optimism pills, though. In displaying such blind optimism (or arrogance, you decide), they neglected the one thing that makes England such a sturdy Test side: a proud home record.
Not since the last great captaincy debacle in the final throes of Cook’s reign had England lost at home. It was 2014 and the visitors were Sri Lanka. I’m not 100% sure where rock bottom is, but England’s last two captains have offered a fair idea.
Root still seems adamant that he’s the right man to lead this side, that this side has played good cricket. It’s those comments that make you realise he’s done. The blinkers are on. Only, if Root’s captaincy was a race horse, the vet would be erecting the screen and readying the injection.
Some honesty from Root might have rescued him. He’s blinded by his own optimism and his own form, though. Sure, he’s played some brilliant cricket, but the rest of the side hasn’t. He now looks like King Canute, forlornly insisting that the tide shall obey him. “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.”
It’s time for Root to display similar humility and obey those eternal laws. Self-awareness is a trait of great leaders – the lack of it from Root is another nail in his coffin. “Of course it will define my captaincy – I’m not naive enough to think that it won’t,” said Root before the Ashes. And yet here we still are.
It needn’t, however, be an acrimonious end. Root is a fine player who has demonstrated that prolifically these past 12 months. As his leadership sank, his batting soared. Would England miss his runs? Absolutely. Would England miss his leadership? Nah. It’s reached the end of the road. Root still has so much to offer this side. He can step aside graciously.
There are examples of deposed captains in the game currently. Two other members of the ‘Big Four’, Steve Smith and Virat Kohli, have been reverted to rank and file officers of their regiments, albeit in entirely different circumstances. Cook, before Root, carried on as an opener under Root’s leadership. Grimly clinging to power will do no one any favours.
Like a daffodil flowering too early, Joe Root was caught out and left ill equipped to deal with the reality of the task before him. The right man at the wrong time? Perhaps. There are major issues elsewhere that are not Root’s fault. The standard of coaching is a prime example. It’s just jobs for the boys and yes men. How many batsmen improved under Mark Ramprakash and Graham Thorpe? None. Jon Lewis moaned about Ollie Robinson’s fitness, what’s been done to rectify it? What’s been done to encourage England’s bowlers to bowl the threatening lines and lengths of their opposition? What did Chris Silverwood achieve? Paul Collingwood is more of the same.
Take this from Marcus Trescothick at the end of the West Indies series defeat: “We didn’t stand up in the pressure moments when it was going down to wire. We haven’t stood up and performed whereas they’ve had a couple of guys really step up and make a difference. We need to try and put in those performances when these times come around.”
What on earth does any of that actually mean? Collingwood talked of positive meetings prior to the series. It’s all banalities and management bullshit. England need people of substance who can deliver something tangible. The entire system needs a re-jig because this has gone on for far too long. That’s not Joe Root’s fault, either.
All we now know is that it’s the right time for change. Joe Root’s ideas have stopped working and his leadership has become ineffective, as it has for those above him. It’s the end of the road. He cuts a deluded figure waffling on about ‘brilliant cricket’ and ‘steps forward’. And good luck to the next captain – you’ll need it. If a captain is only as good as his players, he will likely be on a hiding to nothing as well; left to wither and die before our eyes, sent out ill equipped by a system – from boardroom to coaching – which is set up to fail.
By Miles Reucroft