There has been talk about Joe Root’s captaincy and whether he is still in the ‘fab four’ of world batsmen, but we should remember England have won the last six games in which he has led them. Root is making real strides towards turning this Test side around.
Those wins came against three different teams – South Africa, West Indies and Pakistan – and the first three of those victories were away from home before Root missed the first Test of this summer on paternity leave. So that’s a pretty decent record.
Root’s captaincy in the second innings of the first Test was excellent. The way he marshalled his team and the bowling changes to dismiss Pakistan for 169 gave England the chance they needed to chase 277 and win.
England are still making it hard work for themselves, either by losing the first Test of a series or having to win from behind, as they did at Old Trafford last week, but Root is building a side full of character and fight.
The captain is criticised if a team is not showing those qualities so Root should be praised for the way he is leading this side now, three years into the job. He has instilled belief because he picked the right players to form a core. And there are good people around him in the likes of Chris Silverwood and Graham Thorpe.
The England captaincy gets to you as a player, there’s no escaping that, and most follow a similar path. It lifts you initially but then the pressures and responsibilities can weigh you down because it can be a circus, especially in a summer like this.
That Root wants to move down to No 4, where he will be on Thursday at the Ageas Bowl, suggests he feels the burden of everything that goes with captaincy. If he didn’t believe it affected his batting why would he move down the order?
I’m pleased he has gone back to his natural technique because he changed it last summer when Australia were all over him and Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, in particular, were trapping him on the crease. He made quite big changes, going wide on his stance, but he was out of sync and last week was more like his old self with his trigger movements and rhythm.
However, I wish he would put away the back cut through the slips he has introduced. It got him out to Yasir Shah in the first innings of the first Test and I’d like to see Root more often revert to that backfoot punch through the off-side that was his signature shot.
His conversion rate has been questioned but what always impressed me was his consistency in making half centuries or more. He has lost that, but was always going to go through a mini-slump and it doesn’t mean he does not belong in the highest company alongside Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson. The debate is whether it is best for English cricket for Root to concentrate solely on becoming one of our greatest ever batsmen, because he has the ability, or accept that leading this side may take something away from his batting.
I’d argue England are winning Tests under him and improving as a side so he should be considered an all-rounder and his captaincy is working. The two should not be mutually exclusive. All he needs is a big century in these last two Tests and all will be well again.
Root also needed to have a long chat with Jimmy Anderson before Thursday’s Test to see whether it was best for him to play at the Ageas Bowl. It appears he has done that before he intimated on Wednesday that Anderson would play.
Anderson has had one poor game, as he admitted himself, and has earned the right to be honest with his captain over whether he is in the right form and frame of mind to play. He was always likely to feature in four of the six Tests – the question was whether his fourth should be now with the series on the line or next week.