Updated: Aug 13, 2020
England's batting line-up will be aided in the second test against the West Indies with the return of their Captain, and best batter: Joe Root. The Yorkshireman, having missed the first test for the birth of his second child, will seemingly slot in at his preferred number four position, with Zak Crawley likely to bat at three given his second innings runs at The Ageas Bowl. Root's arrival will bolster the batting line up, after England's second innings collapse of 30-5 cost them the first test match against the West Indies. Despite constant criticism of Root for his failure to convert 50s to 100s (1*), he is key to England's success. In this piece, I explore Root's returns as captain, his all-round record, notes of greatness and whether we should appreciate him more.
Recent Root Nearing 8000 test runs, Joe Root scored his previous test century in the tour of New Zealand, a knock of 226 that put England in a good position-although they failed to capitalise with the ball on a flat pitch, with rain delays on the final day. And despite failing to score a century in England's last test series, he scored the third most runs (for England) and still averaged 45.28 in said successful tour of South Africa (2*). While Root should convert more often, consistent scores of 50+ are key to English success. Examples from the tour of South Africa include his partnership with Dom Sibley in the second innings of the second test and his pair of fifties in the fourth test that helped England to the series victory.
The Complete Cricketer
It is worth noting Root's multi-format ability. His constant cricket reduces chance for rest: ergo, his test returns falter. However, he is very important in the England ODI set-up. Although some critique his scoring rate, his ability to hold an innings together to allow England's big hitters to flourish is crucial. The stats support this: his ODI average and strike-rate are higher than that of innovative great Kevin Pietersen. Root also has the most ODI centuries for England, and is second only to Eoin Morgan in terms of career ODI runs for England (3*). And although he may struggle to return to the t20 side given England's depth of batting talent, he was England's leading run-scorer in their impressive 2016 World t20 campaign (4*) and could be an asset in the t20 side, providing the glue for the fast-scoring players.
Best Efforts Given England's serious failure with the bat in both innings of the first test against the West Indies, Root's return will be a big boost. He averages 57.35 in his nine tests against the WIndies, and has two centuries when captaining against them. At Old Trafford, where the final two tests of this series will be played, he averages 85, and has his career high score there, which is arguably his best England innings.
This was in 2016, when Root scored 254 against Pakistan. Having lost by 75 runs in the first test at Lords, with Yasir Shah taking 10 wickets in the match, England needed to bounce back. This was especially the case for Root, who was sloppy with the bat, making 48 in the first innings before a very soft dismissal against Shah and just 9 in the second, giving his wicket away again. The second test saw Root come in at three, with England 25-1 after seven overs. He held the innings together, playing within his means and avoiding mistakes, while still scoring with his usual ease. He put on 185 with Alastair Cook, 103 with Chris Woakes and 106 in just 20 overs with Jonny Bairstow, before he was dismissed, having batted for 618 minutes. Simon Wilde called Root's batting determination 'insatiable' and Mike Brearley described the performance 'a perfect test innings'. To Mike Atherton, it was a 'complete player playing a complete innings'. What is perhaps most remarkable about this innings, was Root was batting at three, surprising given his reluctance to do so in recent years.
As captain, Root's best innings is probably his 124 in the second innings of the second test against Sri Lanka. This knock saw him take the man of the match award and help England win the 2018 series with a test to play. England went to Sri Lanka planning to play aggressive cricket, and Root epitomised this with the brilliance of his innings. He was on just 18 when he lost Ben Stokes for a duck, and ahead by just 63, England were in danger at 4 down. Root continued, adding 72 with Jos Buttler and increasing the lead. Said lead was, however, just 173 when Moeen Ali was out, and England were six down, with Root still needed to keep England going. He did so, going to his 100 off just 120 balls, and adding 82 with Ben Foakes before he eventually fell, dismissed for 124 off 146. On his fall, the lead stood at 255, with Root having hit 10 fours and two sixes in his knock, with a strike rate of 84.93, the highest score by an England skipper in Sri Lanka.
It was simply brilliant, as Root swept with class, used his feet superbly-be it forward or back, and hit gaps as though simple. He called the knock 'very enjoyable'. Simon Wilde agreed, arguing it was 'one of the finest centuries of [Root's] test career', and Mike Atherton called it 'a masterclass in how to play spin'. It shows that when Root gets going, despite the captaincy burden, he is truly great.
Root as Captain?
Despite some brilliant knocks as captain, like the 124 v Sri Lanka, and 190 in his first innings as captain (v South Africa in 2017), Root's form with the bat has faltered since becoming captain. His average as captain is nearly 10 points lower (52.8 v 42.92) and, as I'll discuss later, he scores less centuries. Despite this batting depreciation, and constant critique of his captaincy style, his record as a captain is surprisingly impressive.
Root has captained England to series victories in Sri Lanka (2018; 3-0) and South Africa (2019-20; 3-1), beaten India at home (2018; 4-1) and, let's face it, did well to hold Australia to 2-2 last summer. In his 39 tests as captain, he has a better win percentage (51.28%) than two of England's most revered captains, in Andrew Strauss (48%) and Michael Vaughan (50.98%). This is made the more impressive given the tumultuous changeover of top-order batters in his time as a player, and captain. Vaughan and Strauss were both surrounded by phenomenal batters, Root is the only star player in England's current top four.
Despite the drop in his average when captain, Root has had to contend without Sir Alastair Cook in recent years. When Root came into the side in late 2012, he was surrounded by quality players like Jonathan Trott, KP, Ian Bell and Matt Prior, and had an in-form Gary Ballance, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali throughout the middle years of his career. However, since taking over as captain, his England batting line-up has been the shakiest at any point during his career; currently him and Ben Stokes are the only really good players in the side.
These challenges show his efforts with the bat as captain in greater light. He has top scored for England in two of his 12 series as captain, and has finished outside the top three run scorers just twice (5*). While he hasn't been brilliant with the bat as captain, he has consistently contributed, even if not as regularly or as expansively he would have hoped to. Despite the burden, he remains the test side's best with the bat.
However, his drop in form with the bat and the lack of other reliable batters in the side make the pressure for him to be removed as captain even greater. England have never lost a test when Root has scored a 100, with 13 wins and four draws coming from his 17 centuries. This is a stat that drives home his importance to the side, but given he averages a hundred every 6.5 tests as captain, compared to every 4.8 tests before he was captain, perhaps England need Root the batter more than Root the captain. This is where the argument comes in that he may not be the best option as captain, given England may win more games if he was performing better with the bat, and the captaincy has reduced how often he does perform with bat. In recent times, it has seemed as though he has only kept the role because of a lack of other options. However, if planned tours to India and Australia over the nest two winters are unsuccessful, Root may not have long left in the role.
Harsh Compare? Root is often compared to Steve Smith, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson, with the quad once dubbed the fab four. In recent years, Root has fallen away from this group, although given the prowess of Virat Kohli and genius of Steve Smith, this is not solely down to Root's weakness. It is not the case that Kohli walks over Root either. In 44 tests away from home, Root averages a very impressive 45.13; Kohli slightly less at 44.36 in 47 tests. Playing away tests is very difficult, and this stat shows Root is still level with Kohli in some regards. While his average is not as impressive as Kohli's at home, England is a very hard place to bat.
And while difficult to compare anyone to Smith, this is more due to the greatness of Smith than another's fault. The Aussie averages 59.55 in England, 60 in India, and, other than 2018, has averaged above 63 in every year since 2014. Smith is too good. However, Root is not awful in comparison. He averages just 38 in Australia but an impressive 53.09 in India, and, since his debut in 2012, has averaged below 40 in only two of his eight playing years. Smith may be comparable with Sir Donald Bradman, so Root's weakness in comparison still makes him very good.
This is reflected in the ICC test batting rankings, where Root is ranked eighth, with Smith, Kohli, Williamson and another two freaks, in Marnus Labuschagne and Babar Azam, being some of the very talented names above him (6*). Although he has not been at his best for a few years, Root is still up there with the best, something England fans should perhaps acknowledge more.
To score runs and win tests against high quality bowlers, often in difficult conditions with a packed schedule make Root one of England's best players, despite all his criticisms. And given he boasts a test average of 48.4, a World Cup medal, two Ashes wins, including one as player of the series (7*), Root is far from overrated, and deserves more praise from England fans. If England are to win test matches, runs for Root is a must. And, despite all the criticism, Joe Root will deservedly go down as an England great. He is that good.
Root's international career summary can be seen below:
1*-Root has 17 hundreds and 48 fifties, a conversion rate of just 26.1%. (He has past 50 65 times, but only 26.1% of the time does he make it to 100.)
2*-Root scored 317 runs in seven innings in England's most recent tour of South Africa, the third most runs for England in the series, one run behind Ben Stokes.
3*-Root has an ODI average of 51.05 and a strike-rate of 87.4, compared to Kevin Pietersen's 40.73 and 86.58. He has 16 ODI 100s, four ahead of Marcus Trescothick and Eoin Morgan who both have 12. Morgan has 6,624 ODI runs, to Root's 5,922.
4*-Root scored 249 runs in six innings in the 2016 World t20, with only Virat Kohli and Tamim Iqbal ahead of him. He won a player-of-the-match award and made the team of the tournament.
5*-Root was England's fourth highest run-scorer in the 2018 tour of Sri Lanka (despite that brilliant 100), finishing just four runs behind Keaton Jennings. He was also outside the top three English run scorers in the one-off test against Ireland in 2019.
6*-Root is also ranked eighth in the ODI rankings, having been in the top ten since 2016, and, other than following the first test against New Zealand in 2019, has been in the top 10 in tests since 2014.
7*-Root was player of the series in the 2015 Ashes, scoring 460 runs as England went to a 3-2 series win. Root made two hundreds and two fifties, took two wickets and won one player of the match award.