What a difference a change of opposition and in the batting order has made for Joe Root this summer, with the fresh-faced youngster just eight runs away from a fifth hundred of his fledgling England career after Day 2 of the fifth and final Test with India at the Oval.
Root actually made his Test debut against India batting at No. 6 in Nagpur in December 2012. Before then, he was being pushed up to open after Nick Compton was axed for the start of last summer’s Ashes series.
However, despite compiling 339 runs in five Tests against the Aussies—including 180 at Lord’s—it was clear that Root was struggling at times at the top of the order trying to see off Ryan Harris and Co. when armed with the new ball.
Things did not get better in the return series Down Under last winter, either, despite Root getting demoted, initially back to his original No. 6 position for the opening contest at the Gabba, before he was then shunted back up to No. 3 in Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne following the unexpected departure of Jonathan Trott.
But after just 192 runs in eight innings at an average of only 27, the England selectors wisely opted to remove the Yorkshireman from the firing line for the final dead rubber of the series in Sydney at the start of this year.
Root was just too good a player, though, with too much potential to be out of the national setup for long, and as expected, the 23-year-old’s name was back in the England team's line-up to play Sri Lanka in the first Test match of the summer at Lord’s in June.
On this occasion, however, Root was asked to take on the No. 5 berth vacated by Ian Bell’s promotion up to No. 4 in the batting order following the enforced retirement of Kevin Pietersen in what was a much-changed England line-up.
And the blond-haired batsman has barely looked back since, with Root marking his return to the side by making an unbeaten double-century at the home of cricket as he took to his new surroundings like a duck to water.
In fact, the player’s seamless transition—to what was a fourth change in batting position in less than 20 Tests since his debut almost two years ago—was one of the few positives that came come out of what was yet another demoralising series loss for Alastair Cook’s men against Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, Root has since moved his game on to yet another level against India these past two months, beginning the five-match series with a masterful 154 not out in the drawn first Test at Trent Bridge in July.
And the in-form middle-order batsman’s unbeaten 92 at the Oval on Saturday was his fifth half-century in a row this summer, making Root just the third Englishman after Wally Hammond and Peter May to score five fifties in every Test of a home series.
Consequently, Root now looks to have made the No. 5 position his own, although his newfound solidity there will obviously be tested far more when Mitchell Johnson and the Aussies arrive in town next summer.
However, with a far greater willingness to try to force himself on to the front foot when facing the fast bowlers, much like his skipper has also done, Root has at least recognised the slight technical glitch that was hampering his game this time last year and attempted to eradicate it.
Take into consideration his ability to play the new ball if needed from having opened with Yorkshire as well as his ease when facing spin bowling, and in many ways you have the ideal man for this key role in the engine room, especially when batting in partnership with new wicketkeeper Jos Buttler at No. 7.
As already with two crucial stands at both Old Trafford and now the Oval, this dynamic duo have given England’s fans a small taste of things to come in the future when batting together, and none more so than in their electric running between the wickets, which drives opponents to distraction.
And throw in Root’s underrated off-spin and reliable close catching anywhere near the wicket, and you can see why he is fast rivalling county colleague Gary Balance as being England’s player of the summer.
All of which now leaves England coach Peter Moores and the selectors with just Sam Robson’s position as opener to worry about. Although one thing’s for sure, there’s no way they would even think about moving Root up the order to take on the role again.