Can Joe Root take England back to glory?

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Can Joe Root take England back to glory?

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Bastab K Parida

02/14/2017

That Joe Root one day would go on to lead the England cricket team was never a surprise to anyone. For all those at Yorkshire who had seen the baby-faced boy hitting the leather with so much audacity, Root was obvious superstar-material from a very tender age.

And now at the age of 26, he is one of the world’s best batsmen and has been elevated to one of the most challenging positions in world cricket as well- to lead England in Test format. Traditionally, England believes in giving the job to the best player of the team, and so Root’s appointment as Alastair Cook’s successor hasn’t really come as a big surprise.

But this expected move has also left all and sundry with a big question. Is he the right man to take England’s captaincy now? 

Unlike Cook, who was always earmarked as the future England captain since he was an Under-19 player, Root hasn’t had that luxury and has led a team, in any format or level, in just four first-class matches- one for the England Lions and three for Yorkshire, where he had mixed success- one win, one loss, two draws. But now, he is an experienced cricketer, one who has seen both success and setbacks - on a personal front and as part of the England team as well. That will help him understand the current team dynamics and understand each player’s strengths and weaknesses. 

But Root’s appointment somehow irked some former cricketers, who are of the opinion that he should be allowed to grow as a batsman before giving him the captaincy. One of them is former England off-spinner Graeme Swann, who said, "Root is the outstanding candidate, but you wouldn't want it to be a case of making your best player captain, only for it to backfire on you later.

"I'm still not convinced Root is the right man for the job. I want him to concentrate on being the best player we have ever had, rather than having his talent curbed by the pressures of captaincy. He has tried to be more sensible later, but part of his cheeky chappy persona makes him the player he is, and I don't want to see that taken away."

But it has been seen and proved more than once in cricket that a captain’s performance can inspire the performance of the entire squad. And the hunger to score runs will help Root to set an example in front of his peers. Despite his inexperience in leading the side, another thing that goes in Root’s favour is that this England team likes aggression, and being perennially an aggressive cricketer, Root can strike a similarity with the team, unlike his predecessor Cook, who was more defensive in his approach.

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Since Root made his Test debut against India in December 2012, he has been the highest run-scorer in Test cricket, scoring 4,594 runs. He has also been in sublime form for a while with the bat, currently ranked third in ICC Test rankings. Unlike many of his teammates, Root plays all three formats of the game and is perhaps one of the best all-format players of the world at the moment. But there are also murmurs that Root’s batting prowess will be affected due to captaincy pressures. 

His rise in international cricket has also synchronized with the rise of some of the great batsmen of his generation. Along with Root, the likes of Virat Kohli of India, Steve Smith of Australia, Kane Williamson of New Zealand have been the face of world cricket for some time. While the other three had already assumed the throne of captaincy, Root will complete the quartet now. Statistically, each of them has taken their game to a different level after taking the captaincy onus on their shoulder, so there is absolutely no reason why Root can’t be an even better batsman from now on.

Now on the team’s performance, under the leadership of Cook last year, England had lost eight Tests, and the team now needs a bold approach, when they face tough challenges in 2017 against South Africa and then in Australia. For that, he will need a proper pace attack. James Anderson and Stuart Broad are fighting with injuries and cannot be considered as long-term prospects anymore. Since the retirement of Graeme Swann, England is struggling to find a world-class spinner as well on whom they can rely on crunch situations. Although Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid have shown promise to some extent, they are far from being considered as trusted lieutenants. Root has to find solutions to these conundrums.

But Root has never been one to shy away from a challenge. To become a successful leader, Root needs to bring his unfaltering mental endurance that characterizes him as a cricketer to his captaincy book and if he can do that, undoubtedly, he can write his own legacy as a leader as well.

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