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Root of the English tree

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Joe_Root_England_cricketBorn in the end of December, when the days just start getting longer, when there is snow all around and it is bitterly cold in the upper latitudes, Root, with his slight build, could never really make anyone believe when he started off against the Indians in 2013. Top-scoring in the first innings on debut with 73 runs, he followed up with an unbeaten 20 and helped his team win this away-Test-series in India. India has been an auspicious venue for a handful of overseas cricketers, to start off their careers in.

In a very short time – and that is what is amazing – he has established himself in all three versions of the game. He is to England what Virat Kohli is to India…and consistency happens to be what is common to these two.

When I write ‘established himself’, I would have to provide some proof…and here it is. According to ICC rankings for October-November 2016, Root is the numero dos batsman in Test cricket (behind Steve Smith), and number 7 in both ODIs and T20s. Only he and Kiwi skipper Kane Williamson figure in the top-10 in all the three lists.

A British professor-colleague at Sweden’s Karlstad University (where yours sincerely is employed) hails from Yorkshire; he believes that there is a direct correlation between the strength of the Yorkshire team and the English national team. Root is a Yorkshireman (as is the stumper Johny Bairstow). Root often reminds one of former England-skipper Michael Vaughan (another Yorkshireman) and one could watch Youtube videos to confirm this. But he also brings to mind, Sir Geoffrey Boycott, that dour and patient opening batsmen, who also played for the same county.  

 

33 of the 88 innings Root has batted in – close to 40% - have yielded him (and his team) a minimum of 50 runs. While some of the greatest batsmen have often had to wait and soldier on for long to get to their first double hundreds, Root, all of 25 years old, has already got two of those…missing out on a possible third, remaining unbeaten on 182.

Since April 2015, his batting average has consistently been over 50 while he has added 2371 runs in 48 innings (and this is excluding his performance in the first Test in India). That implies that he achieved the feat of 1000 runs in a calendar year twice in succession!

He is already being talked about as the third best English batsman of all time – after Graham Gooch and Kevin Pietersen. He will most likely take over the reins from Alastair Cook, when the time comes. Interestingly, both Cook and Root are December-born Capricornians who have it in them to lead by example, as the former has been doing for quite some time now.

 

‘If you ever get bored of batting, take a deep breath and start again,’ was what English bowling coach Ottis Gibson whispered in Root’s ears once. Philosophical indeed. You just imagine that you have gotten out and that you are starting your next innings, even when you are still at the crease, battling it out and eyeing a three-figure score. This advice, Root admits, was what made him stick on, Boycott-like, to the crease and score his second double hundred against Pakistan; a match-winning score.

We have been talking only about Test cricket thus far, and the fact that Root has scored over 1000 Test runs twice in a calendar year (2015 and 2016) has emerged as a highlight. But let us not forget the back-to-back ODI hundreds he got on foreign soil (in South Africa), and the five half-centuries on trot, which followed shortly thereafter…all these in 2016!

And if he started off his Test career by posting the highest score in the team, he began his T20 career in 2013 with a bigger bang, scoring an unbeaten 90 in a losing cause against the Aussies. That was also the highest score in that English innings.

All eyes are on the top guns who have taken cricket to a very different level over the last 6 years or so – Virat Kohli, Steven Smith, Kane Williamson and Joe Root. A tremendous quartet…each of whom will keep competing against the others for the top spot in the ICC rankings. Less than a decade from now, perhaps some or all of them may have pushed the likes of Tendulkar, Lara, Kallis and Dravid down the list. Alongwith Test cricket, they would also have set new records in ODIs and T20s….Good for the game, indeed.  

Aptly named, Joe has struck deep roots: the trunk, leaves and branches of the tree of English cricket will continue to derive their nourishment (i.e. inspiration) from him in the years to come…as a top-order batsman and fielder now, and also as a captain the near future – in all three versions of the game.

 

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G Venkatesh (born 1972) is a senior lecturer in Energy and Environment, at Karlstad University in S...

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