ICC CRICKET WORLD CUP 2019
Root is the glue that allows the rest of England’s batsmen to play freely and flourish. © Getty
In a batting order otherwise packed full of raw power and aggression, Joe Root is the exception. At number three he is the glue around which the rest of England’s batsmen play, the man who ticks along at a run a ball, or there or thereabouts, holding the innings together. Root is a vital piece of Eoin Morgan’s puzzle. The likes of Jason Roy, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow may grab more headlines but quietly, efficiently, Root has been just as important a part of England’s surge to the top of the world rankings.
His record since the last World Cup is remarkably good, averaging 58 from 78 matches, including ten hundreds in the process of scoring nearly 3,500 ODI runs. He’s been no slouch either. Those runs have come with a strike rate of 91. By any standard, those are seriously good numbers and in any other England one-day team except this one, Root would have been feted, the star of the show. But now, even he acknowledges that his game is more conventional and, dare one say it, more conservative than the rest of England’s batting order.
That is not a criticism. You can’t have every batsman in the order teeing off, every innings. Adaptability and different combinations working together are important. Nor is Root’s an easy role to play and his all-round excellence against pace and spin, his ability to assess conditions and bat for long periods of time, scoring hundreds, while religiously keeping the scoreboard ticking over is so vital to England’s chances. In the rarefied levels of the team’s white-ball batting, it may seem like the donkey work but it’s no less vital for that.
It is, however, a role that Root feels he got away from during the Pakistan series despite a consistent run of form which resulted in a lowest score of 40 in four innings. “I was probably a little bit too experimental and trying to play in a manner that didn’t suit myself or the team,” Root said. “It is actually a very good reminder that on occasions I should rein it in a bit, not get too giddy, not try to follow suit and get carried away by guys like Jonny, Jason and Jos when they’re flying at the other end. I just need to continue to play my role and let them have the freedom to play the way they do.
“Trying to hit the left-arm spinner over mid-off five times in two games and nearly get[ting] out four times to it is a bit dumb and it’s not what I’m about in that format. It’s not the right option for me, whereas flicking it over my shoulder probably is.
“It’s remarkable the skill level and some of the shots we’ve seen. There are some tennis shots going off and extra cover drives off the back foot. It’s impressive and sometimes you look at them and think ‘I wish I could do that’. I wish I could feel in a position where I could join in but it’s part and parcel of your role in the team and the partnership.”
Root’s ability to knock the ball around will be particularly important if England encounter pitches such as the one in the 2017 Champions Trophy semi-final against Pakistan in Cardiff. Then, they were unable to adapt to a slow surface and ended up getting dumped out of the tournament after posting a well below par total which Pakistan chased easily.
They have improved in that area since then and winning in Sri Lanka this winter was a recent example of how well they can now adapt to alien conditions but Root will still be a key figure on the slower wickets expected as the World Cup moves on and used pitches come into play. “One area we’ve got better at is that we are a little bit more able to read situations slightly quicker – which was probably our downfall at Cardiff two years ago.
“We can adapt to that and reassess and not think ‘today we’re going to get 400’. Today 310 might be a really good score or 280 and we have to have trust and faith in our bowlers to defend that. So as I say, it’s great to be in this position where we feel we are well prepared, we feel we are ready and we just want to get on with it now to be honest.”
For Root, in particular, there is a lot to be getting on with. Not only is he England’s number three in a home World Cup they are expected to win but then he will captain his first home Ashes series just a matter of weeks after, attempting to regain the urn after surrendering it pretty meekly on his watch in Australia 18 months ago.
It’s been labelled a once in a generation summer where England’s ODI and Test teams can put cricket back on the map in this country and if England are to emerge victorious from both, Root will need to have a big few months with the bat, particularly in the Ashes. Given the importance of that series to England’s development as a Test team, and Root’s captaincy, it certainly can’t be put to one side totally and Root admits he will spend some time during the World Cup focusing on Ashes preparation.
“It’s going to be important to make sure that we do prepare well for that as well and that it does get some time, attention and care,” Root said. “It’s important that the selectors spend a good amount of time watching county cricket, making sure they’re very aware of who’s performing well, who’s going to add to what’s a very good, strong squad of players and make sure we are in the best position possible.
“And also look at performances throughout the World Cup as well – see if there’s a cross-over and see if there are guys who have shown things that will stand up well in Ashes cricket. We’ve got a very difficult challenge, a very difficult selection process going into that first Test match. It’s just so exciting, it’s non-stop this summer and it’s felt like it’s non-stop [already]. But it’s not started yet.”