It has been a tough few months for the England cricket team. A string of poor performances have meant that they have already lost the Ashes, just three matches in, and they could well be whitewashed 5-0. Lots of questions are being asked of the England cricket team. In particular, there has been lots of focus on their seam attack and how tame they have been in comparison to Australia’s. However, former England spinner Graeme Swann commented on Joe Root’s position as captain.
“There’s no difference between Steve Smith and Joe Root in ability at all, and yet Steve Smith is so much more prolific right now” – @swannyg66
— BBC 5 live Sport (@5liveSport) December 18, 2017
Swann said that Root and Australian captain Steve Smith had similar abilities, but that Root has been burdened by the captaincy. This has left people asking the question of whether England were right to make Joe Root captain. This article looks at Root’s batting form since taking on the captaincy, how England have performed under him and who could have been captain instead.
Joe Root’s Batting Record As Captain
The main fear cited by Swann was that captaincy has had a negative effect on Root’s batting. Ignoring the ongoing Ashes series, Root seems to have flourished in his role as captain. Root scored an impressive 729 runs in seven tests, at an average of over 60, in his first two Test series as England captain. This included scoring one hundred and three fifties against a formidable South African bowling attack. Before he took over the captaincy, Root had scored 4,594 runs and averaged just over fifty. From these numbers it is clear that the burden of captaincy has not had a significant impact on Root, but if anything has taken his batting to new heights.
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However, it is this one Ashes series that has caused the criticism to arise. In the three Tests that have been played Root has failed to make any meaningful contributions, scoring just two fifties in six innings. Importantly, he has failed to convert on these fifties, with a top score of just 67. His series average of 29, though, is actually still higher than it was when he toured Australia in 2013/4. Therefore, it seems extremely harsh to say that captaincy has hindered his batting. Admittedly he has drastically underperformed in this series, but this is a small blip in the grand scheme of things. Swann’s claims are certainly premature and if Root fails to perform in his next series then perhaps it may be a problem with exploring further.
How Have England Fared Under Root?
With the Ashes series now lost, England have won two out of the three Test series they have played under Root’s captaincy. No one expected England to retain the Ashes in Australia, as this current Australia side seems to be vastly superior to Root’s. It is important to realise that Joe Root is not to be blamed for this, but can only be held for mistakes in his captaincy. Perhaps one such example of this could be his peculiar decision to bowl first in the day-night Test at Adelaide. However, it would be absurd to pin England’s series defeat to Australia on his captaincy. In truth, it is just that this England side is inferior to Australia’s and that the better side has won.
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Again, aside from this Ashes series, Root’s captaincy has been excellent and has made England play a much more aggressive style of cricket. This new mindset was exemplified in Root’s early declaration against the West Indies in the Second Test, which they lost, but signified a shift in attitudes. It has been a refreshing change to the slightly more defensive stance taken under Cook. Alastair Cook captained England for 59 Tests and won 24 of them, with a win rate of 40%. Root, though, has won five out of ten matches so far – giving him a current win rate of 50%. This is significantly higher than Cook’s. Ultimately, it again seems to be too early to judge Root’s captaincy.
Who Were The Other Captaincy Options?
Many critics of Root felt that he was only handed the captaincy because no one else was capable of fulfilling such a role. Stuart Broad was cited as a viable option, but he would no doubt have come under similar criticism after a shocking performance in the Ashes so far. Ben Stokes was appointed vice-captain after Root upgraded to captain, but after his abysmal behaviour it is hard to see him playing in, let alone captaining, this England side. Veteran seamer James Anderson was also in the running, but there were several reasons why he was not chosen. Perhaps the biggest factor is that he is not a long term option, as he is now 35 and will not play for too long. Also, if some of the allegations made in Kevin Pietersen’s autobiography are true, then another possible reason could be that he is not a popular figure in the dressing room. Therefore, Root was really the only viable option, along with Broad.
Root Was The Right Choice
Joe Root was the right choice for the England captaincy. His batting has not been affected negatively by captaincy and it is too early to say that his leadership is responsible for England’s Ashes problems. After all, playing Australia down under is one of the hardest challenges in the cricketing world. Swann is too premature in his comments, but if his poor form extends well into the new year, then it would be suitable for the England management team to review his progress.
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