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Underperforming Joe Root lies at the heart of England's batting woes

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Joe Root during 2019 Ashes

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Underperforming Joe Root lies at the heart of England's batting woes

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Harshit Anand

06/11/2021

As ridiculous as it may seem to read the headline, after all, Joe Root has scored more tons in the first half of this year than he did in the entirety of 2019 and 2020, but the moment captain cool enters the home shores, he turns into a tame lion from a roaring beast.

Joe Root has carried the burden of the English batting on his shoulders this year. It all started with the Sri Lanka tour where the series was more of a battle between Root and Sri Lanka after he started plundering daddy hundreds for fun. He was the man. He was the leader. He was the batsman. He was the difference.

For a man with no Test centuries in 2019 and 2020, struggling to retain his status as a member of the elite fab four, that was supposed to be one of the most remarkable turning points. And with England winning the winter series against Sri Lanka, the world had welcomed the dawn of Root 2.0. What followed was a humbling series for England in India. But in a low-scoring series, Root did have a respectable aggregate if not the domination of the Lanka series with a double-hundred in England's famous Chennai win.

After conquering the great sub-continent challenge and addressing his conversion and consistency woes, Root's next big step-up was hitting the home run in England.  He was once again ready to capture the imagination with his charisma and class - after all, this year, his bat had turned into a wand, and he was knocking everything that came down his path like a piece of a cakewalk.

However, the fairytale finally has come to an end as the realities of the past have started to gain traction. With scores of 42, 40 and 4, Root's underwhelming run at home has returned to haunt him and England yet again. Mind you, when he's going through a rut at home nothing works for him, even a magical year like he is having in 2021. Root's misery at home has been as prolonged as England's batting woes.

5 Tests are minimum criteria for selection  © Cricinfo Statsguru

As we can see, Root's average of 33.45 after playing 20 Tests in the period is damning for someone who's considered one of the best Test batters in the world. There are seven batsmen from England who have averaged better in the period. Not only that, only once has he converted his fifty into a century out of eight attempts. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Since the start of 2018, 25 batters in world cricket have averaged better than Root's 33.45 in home Tests. While six batsmen are averaging more than 50, as many as nine batters are averaging 40 or more. 

Now, there's no denying the fact that England has one of the toughest conditions to bat in the world. But, it has always been like that and it didn't stop Root earlier from dominating the batting charts. Take a look at how Root has fared in different phases:

Now, as we can see the English skipper was a master of scoring consistently at home. Furthermore, in both the periods mentioned till the end of 2017, the Yorkshire batsman was the best averaging batsman for the country. He was once carrying the English batting across conditions on his broad shoulders with the other batters working well around him. But now that's no longer the case and that has worsened England's batting frailties. 

England are going through a transition phase, and have a plethora of young batters in the line-up, trying to step up from county cricket to top-tier cricket. And that has been one heck of a journey given the daylight gap between the standards at both levels. There is a trio of young players in the middle-order in the form of Zak Crawley (14 Tests), Ollie Pope (19 Tests), and Daniel Lawrence(7 Tests), while the openers Rory Burns (25 Tests) and Dom Sibley (20 Tests) might seem experienced but they are yet to get even 30 Tests under their belt. They are all promising at best, but their average hovering in the 30s gives a clear-cut picture that they are not world-class. At least, not yet.

But that's not the case with a 'world-class' Joe Root, yet he continues to be a major let-down. Instead of lending a helping hand to the inexperienced line-up, with his top-notch calibre, and wealth of experience, he's not even able to deal with his own mess, let alone marshal the troops around him. 

When Root walked out in the middle on day one of the Edgbaston Test, England were in a decent position at 73 for 2. They had one of their best opening stands in a long time. And the wicket wasn't as spicy as it usually is, certainly far more flatter than the first Test, albeit there was a tinge of movement in the air. New Zealand were even playing their 'B' bowling attack. All that England needed was a good partnership between Root and Burns.

But after a streaky four, Root departed soon, leaving everything on the young middle-order and Burns, throwing away the position of ascendancy when he was expected to play a big knock and propel hosts to a big total. The Three Lions finished with a 300-ish total when it could have been 400 with Root's men in a commanding position. For someone who has played 100 Tests, and is among the premier batters, this ain't that big an expectation? But in England, the higher the expectations from Root, the bigger the disappointment.

The ongoing series has made it clear that there will be no shielding to Root's stumbling block and if not for Stokes, Root's perennial problems would be creating a far bigger dent. It also reinforces that the emergence of Ben Stokes as an impactful yet reliable batter has been a crucial factor in England's home wins, more than we realize. He might be the third highest-scoring batsman since the start of 2018 at home, but his average (44.16) remains the best. And when it comes to impact, there's no one even close to him in taking the game away from the opposition with his box-office batting display. 

Stokes, who has batted like a man possessed in the whites, played a major role as a batter in the 2019 Ashes, away series' in New Zealand and South Africa respectively and then had a memorable outing against West Indies last year. Even Jos Buttler has put in some credible performances at home. 

World cricket is well aware of England's batting frailties. With the India series looming large, the spotlight on Root's rut at home will only get more space in media's coverage. With Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler returning for the showdown series, there will be some respite for Joe Root and England. But it still begs the question, for how long will Root be allowed to get away being the team's weak link at home whilst captaining the side? 

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