There are few doubts over the identity of England’s best Test batsman. It’s Joe Root. At his best, he is an effortless batsman, capable of scoring at will in any gap. The problem is, he hasn’t been at his best for a while now and his form is a major contributor to England’s current top order wobbles.
A lot has been made of Root’s conversion problems in the past. He’s been a man well capable of getting to 50, but then has become a man who has struggled to reach three figures. His Test career has featured 41 half centuries but only 14 centuries. This represents a conversion rate of 25.5%, which is a major disappointment.
Things have been getting worse, too. In 2018, Root has six 50s but only one century – a conversion rate of 14.3%.
What does this mean? Well, put simply, it means that Root just isn’t winning games for England, let alone shaping or dominating series.
18 months ago, there was talk of a big four in modern cricket: Root, Steve Smith, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson. So, let’s use them as a point of comparison:
- Kohli – ave. 54.57, 19 X 50 and 24 X 100 conversion = 55.8%
- Smith – ave. 61.37, 24 X 50, 23 X 100 conversion = 48.9%
- Williamson – ave. 50.35, 26 X 50, 18 X 100 conversion = 40.9%
- Root – ave. 50.25, 41 X 50, 14 X 100 conversion = 25.5%
To further compare the players, Root has never scored three or more centuries in a series and has only scored two on two occasions, at home to India in 2014 and the home Ashes series of 2015. He has struggled to truly dominate opposition.
Smith has scored three or more centuries in a series thrice: three centuries in the Ashes last winter, three in India last year and he scored four at home to India in 2014/15. Kohli has scored three or more centuries in a series twice: three at home to Sri Lanka at the turn of this year and in the same series as Smith he also notched four centuries in Australia in 2014/15.
Williamson has never achieved this feat, but he has never played in more than a three Test series. Root has played in 10 such series, Kohli in nine and Smith in six.
It’s clear that Root just isn’t in the same company as the other three. In truth, Smith and Kohli stand alone and, as we’re only analysing Test cricket here, Smith stands taller than even Kohli when his mind is on batting and not on reconditioning the ball.
Root has regressed to the mean. He no longer stands out as an obviously world class player and isn’t the totemic figure his side’s batting line up needs. As Australia are discovering, Smith was their go-to man and the closest thing going to a guarantee of runs. Remove him and they have all but collapsed.
Kohli, too, has masked a multitude of sins in India’ batting line up. When everyone else has failed, Kolhi has stood tall and dragged India onwards. Root just isn’t doing that for England and he’s seen up close and personal over the past 12 months how these masters of modern batting can dictate terms and bend a game towards their will.
Root was hapless as Smith notched three centuries in the recent Ashes series and had to overcome a determined Kolhi when India visited England this year. Kohli’s two centuries threatened to secure India a famous away series win at one point but he was without much in the way of support. Williamson, too, punished England with a century in Auckland after his side had bowled England out for 58 earlier this year.
In those 11 Tests against the world’s elite batsmen (five in Australia, two in New Zealand and five against India) Smith, Kolhi and Williamson have notched six centuries. Root mustered one, in the final, dead Test against India at the Oval.
England have enough top and middle order batting concerns without needing to worry about the form of their star turn. It’s time Root takes a leaf out of the book of the other three and starts delivering telling contributions with the bat. At the moment, his career sliding towards frustration and he’s far too gifted a player to be letting that happen.
By Miles Reucroft