Why Joe Root Is the Key to Success for England Against India

James Duncan@@jdunc79Contributor IIIJuly 16, 2014

England's Joe Root turns towards his teams dressing room as he celebrates scoring 200 runs not out against Sri Lanka on the second day of the first test cricket match between England and Sri Lanka at Lord's cricket ground in London, Friday, June, 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Alastair Grant/Associated Press

England batsman Joe Root was one of the stars of the first Test at Nottingham. With his team pinned against the ropes by India in the first innings, Root notched a game-changing score of 154 not out. Steering his team away from potential defeat, his crucial lower-order partnerships even gave them a remote chance of victory.

With the match ultimately ending at an impasse, England’s plight moving forward could have been worse than 0-0, if not for Root.

The Yorkshireman’s rise has been meteoric over the past 20 months. Wasting no time in capturing the attention of the cricket world, Root played a key role on Test debut in England’s dramatic series victory in—coincidentally—India. Showing great poise in one of the game’s most notorious pressure-cooker environments, he scored 93 invaluable runs in the series-clinching game.

Proving to be a nemesis to India, in three career Test innings Root has scored 247 runs against them whilst being dismissed only once.

He has played in all but one of England’s Test matches since making his debut in Nagpur. This has included two gruelling Ashes series and a tough two-match trip to New Zealand. 

Despite the unrelenting pressure, and frequently being shuffled around in the batting order, Root has been England’s most productive batsman. Even more impressively, the gritty Sheffield-born player is the fourth-highest Test run-scorer in the world since the beginning of 2013. No small feat considering that he only had one Test cap prior to this period.

Most Test Runs 2013-2014

His healthy average of 45.54 during this time is higher than any other England player with 300 or more runs. It also tops renowned internationals, such as Michael Clarke (42.41) and Steve Smith (44.08).

Without Root’s regular output of runs, the depths of England’s current abyss would be even greater. Considering Alastair Cook’s cryogenically frozen bat and Ian Bell’s tapering off, added to the losses of Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott, the Three Lions have been blessed by the emergence of the 24-year-old.

Further demonstrating his value to the England team has been Root’s innings conversion rate. Of the eight times he has reached 50 runs, the right-hander has progressed to triple figures on four occasions. In this quartet of tons, Root has thrice scored over 150, including two not outs. Not profligate like some of his predecessors, Root’s wicket never comes cheap.

The wagon wheel below shows Root’s century innings against Sri Lanka last month. As you can see, his main scoring areas are square off the wicket. Pull-shots played with his characteristic wrist-roll, cover-drives and square-cuts are his signature shots. The latter two were used consecutively for boundaries against India last week to bring up his century.

Root’s propensity to play back in his crease has seen him occasionally look vulnerable to quick bowling. During the Nottingham Test, Jonathan Agnew wrote on bbc.co.uk: “his reluctance to get on the front foot was exposed by Australia last summer and he doesn't seem to have changed his method at all.”

This is one chink in Root’s armour that will inevitably have to be straightened out. However, with bounce and pace generally not a feature of English pitches, he does not appear to be under too much stress in this series. In fact, India’s fastest bowler, Ishant Sharma, was frequently punished by Root in the first Test. He scored a total of 49 runs against Sharma—the most off any single bowler. Root bludgeoned the long-haired seamer for seven boundaries,, including some classic pull-shots through mid-wicket.

Root also demonstrated a high cricket IQ during his exquisite knock. With nine wickets down in the first innings and the team still 159 runs in arrears, he showed great maturity in rescuing his side from a precarious position.

With Jimmy Anderson at the opposite end, Root monopolised the strike—picking off two’s and four’s when available—whilst often retaining it for the following over. His ability to manage the game and keep the scoreboard ticking over was top drawer. The end result of this partnership was a new world record for the 10th wicket.

Rui Vieira/Associated Press

Despite his unimposing stature, Root has repeatedly shown great resilience during his fledgling career. He has never backed down from a challenge at the crease, and he also rebounded supremely after being dropped from the Test team last December. Lesser characters may have wilted, but his compiling of 413 runs at 137.66 since that setback has proven his mettle.

Root’s strength of mind has also impressed legendary batsman Geoff Boycott. Speaking about Root’s Trent Bridge innings on the BBC Test Match Special Podcast, Boycott said: “he’s always had composure (and) a strong disposition. He’s a mentally tough so-and-so. He battled away (today) and that’s all credit to him.”

Whether it’s been digging his side out of deep holes, going toe-to-toe with the likes of Mitchell Johnson or absorbing a left hook from David Warner in a pub, Root has risen to every challenge that he’s faced in his own unflappable, broad-smiling way.

His glorious array of shots, mental strength and cricket brain will continue to be relied upon by England as this series unfolds. Expect more despairing looks from the Indian bowling attack as the fresh-faced boy from the north continues to deny them. They certainly won’t be the last international team to have to suffer him, either.

All stats in this article are courtesy of espncricinfo.com

Please follow me on twitter: @jdunc1979


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