Joe Root passed 10,000 Test runs with a flick off his pads. In doing so, he climbed cricket’s Everest, which was first scaled by Alan Border, to become its 14th conqueror. He also brought up Test century number 26 and nudged England to within touching distance of their first Test victory in 10 months. There were many moments colliding at once. As the dust settles, however, just how good is Joe Root? He’s scored enough runs to now be considered in a historical context.
Root is a bonafide member of modern cricket’s Big Four: Steve Smith, Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Root have all vied for top billing over the past 10 years and each has sat atop the pile at varying stages. Smith’s scarcely believable average of 59.77 probably puts him out of reach when considering the era of the Big Four collectively. Since the start of 2021, however, there is no argument to suggest that Root is anything other than the pick of the bunch. His nine Test centuries dwarf the collective zero Test centuries of the other three in that period.
Root is also the youngest at 31; a few months younger than Williamson and a couple of years younger than Smith and Kohli. When the music stops, it’s likely he’ll have amassed the most runs of the four. England play more regularly than the rest so it’s natural to a certain extent, but whilst the others have slowed down their run scoring exploits of late, Root has stepped up.
Joe Root’s conversion problems
It was an infuriating problem for Root – converting 50s into 100s. It undoubtedly held him back. Before England’s first Test in Sri Lanka in January 2021, Root had 66 50+ scores for England. Only 25.8% of them (17) were hundreds.
Fast forward to Lord’s in June 2022 and Root now has 79 50+ scores for England. 39.2% of them (26) are hundreds. 69.2% of his 50+ scores since the start of 2021 have been centuries. It’s a fine way to address a glaring issue.
It’s worth looking at the others here, though. Of Smith’s 50+ scores, 42.9% are hundreds; of Williamson’s 42.1% are; and of Kohli’s 49.1% are.
In this respect, Root still lags behind his contemporaries, although his recent form has clawed him back into mix. The opposite is true for Kohli: without a Test century since 2019, his past six 50+ scores have gone unconverted, reducing his rate from 55.1% at the end of that year.
Joe Root’s Ashes issues
As England made clear under the captaincy of Joe Root himself, the Ashes is the biggest show in town for English cricket. With Chris Silverwood as coach, England used last summer’s Test series with New Zealand and India as Ashes preparation. They only won one Test against India and went on to lose the Ashes 4-0. The denouement of the muddled thinking was a series defeat in the Caribbean. Root declared that his captaincy would be judged on that Ashes series. We cannot, therefore, judge it too kindly.
Australia also represents a blackmark on Joe Root’s Test record. From 14 Tests Down Under, Root has failed to register a century, failing to convert nine 50s. His average of 35.68 is his lowest in any country (excluding Bangladesh, where he has only played twice). Going into the 2021/22 Ashes series in the form of his life, a return of two half centuries was disappointing.
Rightly or wrongly, huge emphasis is placed upon the Ashes in England. Whilst Root has never lost an Ashes series at home, he’s never experienced a Test win in Australia.
The opposite is true for Smith. In 16 Tests in England, he averages 59.55 with six centuries and seven 50s. Against England he averages 59.68 with 11 centuries and 11 50s. He has been a dominant figure in Ashes clashes.
Joe Root against spin
Where Joe Root has experienced success, however, is in India. He debuted in Nagpur in 2012, the final Test in a famous series win for England, scoring 93 runs in the match to offer a glimpse of what was to come.
His double century in Chennai in February 2021 gave England another Test victory on Indian soil, cementing Root’s reputation as one of the finest players of spin of the modern, or indeed any, era.
Root’s average in Asia is 52.42 from 20 Tests, with five centuries and nine 50s. Smith averages 49.17 from 16 Tests in Asia and Williamson 45.34 from 20 Tests. Kohli averages 58.28 in familiar conditions, unsurprisingly leading the way.
When compiling a fantasy team to tour Asia, however, Root is the first name on the list. His 1992 runs in Asia is topped by only two other non-Asian touring batsmen: Jacques Kallis (2058 runs from 25 Tests) and Alastair Cook (2710 runs from 28 Tests). When other such batsmen to have played 20+ Tests in Asia include Steve Waugh, Gordon Greenidge, Chris Gayle, Michael Clarke, Ross Taylor, Viv Richards, Kevin Pietersen, Clive Lloyd, AB de Villiers, Alan Border, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Hashim Amla and Ricky Ponting, it’s fair to say that Root’s record stands loud and proud. Clarke, to pick a recent example of a batsman feted for his ability to play spin, averaged 36.97 in Asia.
Fourth innings centuries
Remarkably, Joe Root’s century against New Zealand this June was his first in the fourth innings of a Test. He averages 35.59 in the final innings of a match. Smith averages 30.73 (0 centuries), Williamson 50.93 (three centuries) and Kohli 50.94 (two centuries).
Younis Khan, an understated (and in my opinion underrated) member of the 10,000 club, carries the distinction of being the only man in Test history to score five fourth innings hundreds, averaging 50.51 there. His averaged dipped to 46.50 in the third innings, but he’s the only man with at least five centuries in each innings of a Test. It’s a remarkable feat of consistency. Even Sachin Tendulkar’s average drops to 36.93 in the fourth innings.
Fourth innings runs are difficult to come by. Deteriorating pitches and, simply, a lack of opportunity in the face of run chases and innings victories, make them scarce. Tendulkar’s 1625 is the highest run tally in the fourth innings, with 74 of his 200 Tests witnessing an Indian fourth innings and presenting him with only 60 innings. Only 31 players have scored 1000+ fourth innings runs. Of those, only Geoffrey Boycott, Gordon Greenidge, Sunil Gavaskar, Ricky Ponting, Khan and Graeme Smith average over 50. They were all openers/number threes. Khan batted at first drop in 42 of his 118 Tests, the majority of his time was at four.
Whilst it’s surprising that Root only has one century in the fourth innings, it’s perhaps more surprising that Smith has none. Williamson and Kohli pull well clear in this department. Root’s record is far from shambolic in the fourth innings. Of players with 1000+ fourth innings runs, he averages more than Brian Lara.
So, where does Joe Root stand?
Of players to have amassed 10,000 runs, Root’s average of 49.57 is the second lowest behind Cook (45.35). Batting in England, against the Dukes ball, has played a part in this in the same way that the highest average, Kumar Sangakkara’s 57.40, was impacted by playing predominantly against the Kookaburra – he averaged 41 in England and 35 in the West Indies, where the Dukes is used. You wouldn’t want to be too hasty is declaring one better than the other.
As the 10,000 club grows, so too does the talent within it. Each is a household name: Tendulkar, Ponting, Kallis, Dravid, Cook, Sangakkara, Lara, Chanderpaul, Jayawardene, Border, Waugh, Gavaskar, Khan and now Root.
A cricketer can only ever occupy their own space in time. Of England’s great batsmen, Root’s average sits below Compton (50.06), Hutton (56.67), Hobbs (56.94), Hammond (58.45), Barrington (58.67) and Sutcliffe (60.73). All played 50+ Tests for England.
Root has, however, at the very least nudged his name into the conversation alongside them. That alone has required one hell of a career. He also averages 51.33 in ODIs, to further his importance to English cricket.
So, we’re left with the eye test and personal opinion. Root is undoubtedly one of the greats of the game, but what level within this elite bracket does he sit at?
Root is a joy to watch at the crease. He cuts and reverse sweeps with equal aplomb. He has all the time in the world to dab it down to third man and he can use his feet to play authoritatively in front of square. He has scoring options off front and back foot, deploying the sweep to infuriate many an opposing captain on turning tracks. He can imperceptibly move from 10 to 40 runs, scoring unnoticed.
Since the start of 2021, Root has added the killer touch that had seemed to elude him for the first eight years of his Test career. This raises the exciting question of where his career could finish. How many centuries? What average?
10,000 runs feels like a definitive point at which to draw conclusions. With Root, there’s a sense that this could be the beginning of a final push towards immortality. He’s undoubtedly in the purpliest of purple patches, but what if this stretches on for another 18 months to three years?
Root has added his name the pantheon of the game’s greats. There’s still time for him to push it further up the list within this elite bracket.
By Miles Reucroft