Joe Root: The little boy who can't toughen up
All hell broke loose during Mitchell Johnson's hostile 37-wicket Ashes campaign in 2013. Joe Root, with a calm demeanour, was right about there, waiting for his turn. Twice in four innings he had got out to Johnson. It was testing times for England and needed someone to step up and be counted.
Two years later, the Ashes series of 2015 in England saw Joe Root emerge as the most dependable batsman of the team, scoring 460 runs and ending the series as England's top-scorer. And everyone thought, maybe, just maybe it was time for a change in leadership.
An image of England's best batsman going on to become their leader was hard to deny. Joe Root knew what was at stake, since captaining England isn't the easiest of jobs to maintain, let alone perfecting it.
On 6 July 2017, Root enjoyed a dream start to his captaincy stint, when he scored 190 runs and recorded the highest score by an Englishmen on captaincy debut.
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An innings and 65-run defeat to New Zealand in the first Test might have left Root wondering about his role when England tour Australia next, in 2021. Ever since the 4-0 Ashes defeat in 2018, Root has attracted the wrong kind of attention as England captain, way too early in his career.
The tour of Australia in 2017/18 seemed to have left a mental scar which affected Root's batting graph staggeringly. With only three centuries in 22 Tests since the last Ashes Test of 2018 in January, Root is under immense pressure to perform as a batsman as much as he needs to as a captain. Probably the weakest of the 'fab four' in the current generation - Steve Smith, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson making up the rest three, Root is feeling the heat finding his comfort place at the helm. Smith's coming into his own after a successful return from the ban, Kohli's rise as an aggressive leader and Williamson's average of 63.12 since 2017 has left Root no option but to play catch-up with the big three.
Quoting Ricky Ponting from December of 2017, Root was referred to as a 'little boy' who needed to toughen up as the young leader of the side. Pointing was quite critical of his soft handling of the media interaction post the Ashes series defeat (read more about Ponting's quotes in the article). He had stated:
“The way he answered a lot of the questions after the game last week, and almost the Brisbane game as well, he seemed almost like a little boy... For me, it just looks like it has been a little bit soft, if anything.”
Continuing from where Cook left off was easier said than done. Taking up the mantle from a proven custodian of the game and maintaining the same level of standards with the bat was a job tailor-made for Root. However, almost two and a half years post his first Test as captain, Joe Root's influence over his teammates seems to be fading away.
An average of 52.80 in 98 innings as a player coming down to 39.71 in 63 innings while leading the side, is a cause of concern for Root and the England Test camp. Comparing it with Cook's batting average of 46.58 as captain suggests the kind of disservice Root might be doing to his batting.
A return to his favourite number four slot could motivate Root to score only 13 runs in two innings in the first Test against New Zealand. The second Test could be the last serious throw of the dice for Root as captain. A total of 548 runs in 10 Tests in 2019 at an average of 27.40 isn't the kind of form England need from their best batsman and leader. The only century that Root scored this year, came way back in February against West Indies.
However, the man from Yorkshire has continued to trust his instincts and showed positive intent during his time at the crease. Root's lack of presence in the middle is being felt by the English middle-order and the sooner he realizes it, the better it will be for the future of the English Test team. As far as his captaincy his concerned, ECB and Chris Silverwood will have a huge role to play in saving their best batsman fall prey to the unnecessary burden of leadership.