Joe Root – The Captaincy So Far
Joe Root has been the man in waiting for the England captaincy for as long as I can remember. His appointment as the captain of England seemed as certain as that of David Moyes when Sir Alex Ferguson retired as Manchester United manager in 2013. I just hope his tenure is a more successful one!
England’s best cricketer, Root was widely tipped to be a future England captain from a young age. He was finally given the chance to lead England when Alastair Cook announced he was stepping down from the role to focus solely on his batting last winter. Cook’s decision to step down from captaincy was not unexpected and the lead up to his resignation gave Root plenty of time to build his experience as vice-captain of the side, a position Root held since May 2015.
His captaincy, thus far, has lasted seven months but Root had to wait until July to lead England in the test arena. England’s record with Root as captain stands at four wins, two defeats. Although England won their first test series of the summer against South Africa, England’s style of play under Root’s captaincy immediately caused disquiet in the press. Loose shots resulting in cheap dismissals caused England to suffer a 340-run defeat in their second test against the Proteas.
Nassar Hussain criticised the England team for having a ‘rubbish brand of cricket’ after they were dismissed for a dismal 133. His harsh analysis may seem premature but his criticisms weren’t entirely without merit. England’s form in the lead up to their loss against South Africa in the second test was poor, only winning five of thirteen tests. Root captained only two.
In their four victories, England have looked assured under Root. His performance with the bat does not seem to have suffered with the extra pressure associated with the captaincy. His commanding 190 in the first test against South Africa demonstrated his willingness to lead from the front. Although England have wasted a number of DRS reviews, made some questionable decisions in the field and have sometimes seemed prone to losing cheap wickets, the early signs are encouraging.
Root’s decision to declare with a lead of over 320 in their most recent test against the West Indies should not be cause for criticism. The declaration demonstrated Root’s desire to play a more positive brand of cricket adding a ruthlessness which was lacking under Alastair Cook. Declaring whilst the West Indies still had a chance to win the game also added an element of excitement for spectators. Although bold, the decision itself was not to blame for the defeat. England failed to capitalise on the bowler-friendly conditions late on the fourth day and suffered as a result. Choosing to bowl Ben Stokes for just five overs in the second innings gives England something to reflect on going into the final test of the series.
After the West Indies won their first test on English soil in 17 years, Root gave an honest appraisal of England’s performance. Headingly is an England stronghold and played host to favourable conditions for the four-seamer bowling attack of Anderson, Broad, Woakes and Stokes. Yet, England’s batting order failed to perform in the first innings as the team collapsed again for 259. As seems all too common in recent tests, four of the top six batsman failed to pass thirty. A strong second innings performance brought the game back into the balance but Shai Hope’s outstanding efforts with the bat ensured that it wasn’t enough. Root did not make excuses and gave credit to Shai Hope, whose two centuries set the platform for the West Indies victory.
England will hope that they can clinch the series in the next game at Lord’s to put to rest any lingering doubts over this side’s capabilities and style of play. After all, this was meant to be an easier series than South Africa.
England head into the deciding test on Thursday with the series still in the balance. If West Indies do pull off an unlikely series victory, questions will be asked of this England team and the assertive, if not aggressive, playing style that they have adopted under their new leader. Root’s captaincy will look much better with two series wins under his belt.