Joe Root is not a man who has experienced many personal setbacks in his playing career so far. From starring on his Test debut to becoming England Test captain and leading batsman, he is likely to be the last on the list of players in risk of being dropped.
So when the Yorkshireman was left out of the deciding T20 international against India, the realization that this was a sign of the times perhaps outweighed the initial shock. Root’s role in the T20 side became a confusing one, constantly being moved around the order and then not producing the goods in his number three spot. The option of Alex Hales, a cleaner hitter of a long ball and a man with the capacity to be destructive on his day, proved to be a far more tempting one.
Joe Root Proves That His Way Is The Right Way
Moving into the ODI series, was Root’s omission a sign that he had to develop his game into a much more attacking, aggressive one-day batsman? Quite possibly. England have an embarrassment of riches in the batting department in this format and Root’s strike rate of 86.83 doesn’t seem to be in keeping with their full-throttle approach. It may not have been long until England had to make the same big decision, this time in the 50-over format.
However, for as talented as this England side is, they still have the ability to self-destruct – South Africa at Lord’s (2017) and Australia at Adelaide (during the winter) come to mind. As a result, even in the modern age of crash, bang, wallop mindset to batting, there is still and perhaps always will be room for the calmer, more consistent and perhaps smarter approach. The man who rotates the strike and keeps things ticking over should always be valued.
Root’s stellar performance in England’s latest ODI series (216 runs at 216, two hundreds) triumph against India showed that he has no need to change his ways. After England (Root included) struggled to at least contain the rampant Kuldeep Yadav at Trent Bridge in the first ODI, the home side had to find a way of combatting the leg-spinner.
At Lord’s, it was Root who led the way in doing so. Instead of playing the risky reverse-sweeps and paddles that this England team bizarrely continue play when facing spin, Root chose a more orthodox approach, full of lovely drives in the traditional ‘V’. What’s more, he knew his role. As the rock that stabilises this batting order, Root played to his strengths, knocking the ball around and keeping the scoreboard ticking over until the eventual bad ball arrived. Only 7.75 percent of his scoring shots brought a boundary. It again emphasised the value of being able to build a big innings by playing risk-free cricket.
The truth is that Root doesn’t need to change. England’s dynamic opening partnership of Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow, along with an explosive middle order featuring the likes of Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali, means that the bulk of the hitting can be left to them. Root’s job is one of stability. The others perform the pyrotechnics around him at one end, while he goes about his business at the other.
“Ultimately you have got to trust your game and your technique,” Root said after the ODI victory at Lord’s. “You have got to make sure that you stay strong and trust the stuff you have been doing well for such a long period of time. It was about spending some time out there and trusting the way I play spin. I haven’t faced much of his type of bowling but having a few overs under my belt gave me quite a lot of confidence.”
Indeed, Root’s expertise against spin was crucial in the series-deciding victory at Headingley. England had already made a fast start by the time the 27-year-old walked to the crease (43 off 4.4 overs) and Root knew his role once again, expertly rotating the strike and running hard between the wickets. And when the time came to play an aggressive shot, it was risk-free (either straight or with the spin) once again.
The key to this series was how effectively England would play India’s spinners, Kuldeep especially. Root led the way in how to do so. Whether he was told to do so by the coaching staff or if it was on his own accord, it proved the right way to play. What’s more, it only makes England’s approach to spin (full of unorthodox shots) during their 2016 winter tour of Bangladesh and India all the more baffling.
It’s not just his method against spin that makes Root so important in the one-day format. He is the glue and calm head of a batting line-up that sees scores of 320 plus as the norm since their revolution as a side in 2015. As we have seen before, things don’t always go to plan for this team and Root’s presence adds important balance and solidity even when it feels like it’s not necessary.
So, despite being dropped from the T20 side and despite the modern era of hitting big sixes, Root’s performances prove that his way is the right way and that there will always be room for some traditional class, no matter how much the game changes.