What Is The Root of Joe’s Problems?
The Best in the World
It was half a decade ago that legendary New Zealand cricketer Martin Crowe predicted that in the coming years 4 batsmen would dominate the international cricket scene: Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and Joe Root. Since 2013 Crowe’s forecast has been proven entirely correct; the ‘Fab Four’ as Crowe named them, are the leading run scorers across all formats since the beginning of 2014, and from early 2017 they all captain their countries in the Test format, stamping their authority on their claims to be top dogs for their respective nations.
An alarming dip
Kohli’s numbers, especially on India soil, are beyond ridiculous, as he has churned out over 30 centuries across formats in the past 4 years. His Australian counterpart Smith has arguably turned into the best Test batsman since Don Bradman, and his exploits in recent series against England and India on difficult surfaces – his century in Pune in particular stands out – have almost defied belief. The other captain from down under, Williamson, whilst going slightly under the radar, has continued to live up to his potential of ending his career as his country’s best ever batsman. This leaves us with Root, whose inability to convert his scores into centuries has been counteracted by the fact he fails less than anyone else in the world, which make this conversion ‘failure’ less of an issue, that is, if he keeps scoring of course, which of late has been a problem.
The ongoing, thrilling series against India has been lit up by the best players in the world barring one notable absentee; Kohli has massively come to the party, James Anderson continues to show why he is the best bowler of all time for his country, Stokes brought the 1st Test to a great end, Buttler finally showed he can walk the walk in multiple formats, yet one player has yet to showcase his ability. 142 runs at 28 are hardly awful numbers for the England Captain, and it must be remembered that Root’s 80 in the first innings of the series set up England to win a close scoring match, yet he is performing well below his career average of 51, and a career average at that which has been dipping at an alarming rate. As recently as at the end of the last English Summer, Root was averaging near 54, however gruelling tours to both Australia and New Zealand, coupled with facing the best fast bowlers that Asia has produced in decades this summer have left Root without a Test century in over a year.
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Pundits and Punters alike have been wondering why the baby-faced assassin’s form has dipped, and one explanation could be his captaincy. Like his fellow Sheffield idol Michael Vaughan, Root’s difference in average as simply player versus that as captain is stark; as leader he averages a touch over 47 with only 2 centuries in nineteen tests, yet under his predecessor Alastair Cook he scored at an average of 53, with 11 centuries in fifty three tests. The evidence that captaincy could be the Root of Joe’s problems lie in the fact that in the one day game, where he is led by Eoin Morgan, the Yorkshireman has gone from strength to strength, only recently becoming England’s highest century maker in the format with consecutive hundreds against the same opponents who are causing these issues now.
Another reason could be the fact that he has unwillingly promoted himself to number three in the order to help stop the rut that the England batting side has fallen into. In 4 of the 5 innings this series, Root has come in before the end of the tenth over, and during the last Test in Nottingham, England fell to their third all out in a session collapse in the past 2 years, something that hadn’t happened to them in the previous 70 years once. Root undoubtedly has the same levels of skill as the other batsman rivalling him for the best in the business, but the mental toil constantly having to dig this England side out of a hole might be finally getting to his head.
Still time to turn it around
So is Crowe’s ‘Fab Four’ losing a member? It certainly can’t help Root that his counterpart this summer, Kohli, has already scored over 400 runs at an average of almost 80. In fact in the past 10 months, Root has faced each of Smith, Williamson and Kohli, and has been outperformed in each series. Be it the captaincy or his teammates, Root has to turn his form around quickly if he wants to be considered a great of the game, something he most certainly has the potential to do.
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