It is a common trait among sports fans that we don’t always fully appreciate the talents of some of our sportsmen and women. Sometimes it isn’t until they’ve stopped performing in front of fans and on our television screens that we start to sufficiently eulogise about just how immense they were technically, physically and mentally to get to and stay at the summit of their sport. Thus English cricket fans are lucky that that they have still got so much time to admire Joe Root, still just 25, but already widely regarded as one of the premier batsmen in the sport.
If people needed further evidence of his astonishing talent with bat in hand they got it at Old Trafford during the 2nd of the 4 Test series between England and Pakistan. In it Root scored 254 remarkable runs in the first innings, followed by an explosive 71 not out in the second – and while we’re at it, it’s worth mentioning his 4 catches and wicket too. The double century, made in 406 balls, was nothing short of perfection as well as being the innings that took the game completely from Pakistan. The innings was expertly put together, beginning with a degree of caution and concentration but involving more freedom as it progressed, ending with him playing in full-one day mode. In terms of temperament, game management and shot selection it was simply brilliant.
The innings showed us why Root is currently the 2nd ranked batsman in the world and for a period the number 1. The stats well and truly back it up. He has 7,277 runs at an overall average of 46.6 in all forms of the international game. In Test matches alone he already has an incredible 3,940 runs at an average of 55.49. After less than a decade of international cricket he has 10 Test and 8 One Day centuries, even sometimes being amusingly criticised for not turning his many half centuries into three figures. For the record, he has a combined Test and One Day total of 36 half centuries to his name. He may well have secured a real cricket rarity, a T20 100, only to end up 90 not out. The six Man of the Match awards he has won in Tests further demonstrates his match-winning ability.
What is especially remarkable about Root is that he is one of the best in the world in all formats of the game – Test, One Day and T20. It is why he would comfortably walk into anyone’s world XI. He sits within an elite group of batsmen capable of such quality, with world-class players such as Steven Smith, AB de Villiers, Kane Williamson and Virat Kohli. Like them, Root is the complete batsman. If he needs to bat traditionally he can through fantastic footwork, straight-batted shots off the front and back food and an unyielding defence. Yet if the situation requires it he can transform himself into an ingenious, inventive attacking genius. He can show great power, pull improvised strokes and clever dinks to keep the runs flowing and leave bowlers pulling their hair out in incredulity. His versatility is also partly behind him being used in so many different positions in the Test order. He arrived as an opener but has found himself coming in at number 5, 4 and now 3.
Despite failing to win their series against Pakistan, Alistair Cook’s team remains focused on becoming the number 1 ranked Test side, replicating the feats of that famous group of 2011 led by Andrew Strauss. If they do emulate that great side, a big reason will be down to the Yorkshireman Root. Certainly, whilst Root has been significant in the present, he is inevitably seen as vital for the future too, being expected by many to take over the captaincy once Cook decides to end his illustrious international career. He only made his debut in 2012 but four years later he is already Vice-Captain and one of the most trusted voices in the dressing room and one of the central figures in the team. On top of his obvious talent Root’s hunger, determination and intelligence will make him an outstanding future leader of his country.
Indeed it is the psychological make-up of Root that makes him so dangerous and will ensure that he will only continue to get even better. He may often be the one with a relaxed smile on his face, whether dodging bouncers at the crease or stood in the slips, but Root has real inner steel to him. You simply do not become one of the world’s best without it. Think about the stubborn determination that has been a core part of Cook’s rise to becoming England’s highest Test scorer ever. When Root needs to dig in and preserve his wicket he can do. When he has faced criticism, such as what he endured during the 2013/14 Ashes in Australia when he was dropped after a series of poor performances, he can come back even stronger. The fact that he has improved so much over the last 4 years, from a newcomer to one of the most important players in the side, when playing so much international cricket in all formats clearly exhibits his desire to get better.
It has long been known that Joe Root is a top-class batsman. However, world-class is a far worthier description. Outstanding with the bat, effective in the slip cordon, reliable with his off-spin and a fundamental part of the squad dynamic, his importance to England both now and in the future cannot be understated. We are lucky to have him.