April 17, 2022: He had to go. It was inevitable. England having won only one of their last 17 Tests meant that the pressure was mounting on Joe Root. Three former captains Mike Atherton, Nasser Hussain and his predecessor Alastair Cook joined the chorus for him to step down from the captaincy. All the while Root put up a brave front saying that the players were behind him, that he remained passionate about taking the team forward and that England had played some brilliant cricket despite losing the series in the West Indies last month – a defeat that extended their run without a series victory to five a sequence unequalled in their long history.
On the face of it when one looks at his overall record it appears that England didn’t do badly under Root. He led in 64 Tests, winning 27 and losing 26. All these are records for and England captain and the plus and minus balance out. The captaincy certainly didn’t affect his batting for he scored 5295 runs with 14 hundreds and 26 fifties – again all records for an England captain. Quite often he shouldered the team’s batting on his own, being the only class batsman in the side. Indeed just last year he amassed 1708 runs – the most by an England player and third most behind Mohammed Yousuf and Vivian Richards – in a calendar year. The remarkable run was made even more impressive by his teammates’ run of low scores.
Which of course brings us to the all-important point – is too much being made of Root’s shortcomings as a captain when he has been all too frequently let down by his teammates? One of the many cricketing clichés is that a captain is only good as his team. To be frank England just don’t have many good players in their ranks. The lack of attention to first class cricket is a charge levelled against the ECB and there is some truth in this borne out by the fact that whereas England are No 5 in the ICC Test rankings they are No 2 in both ODIs and T-20 internationals. The emphasis on limited overs cricket – underlined by the introduction of The Hundred last year – has come at a price and is taking a toll as far as the quality of first class – and consequently Test – cricketers is concerned.
Leading from the front is an important quality in a captain and in this aspect Root scores impressively. But despite doing his best he was unable to lift the standards of his players to the highest level. It is a moot point however whether anyone else could have done better and his successor – most likely Ben Stokes – is going to have his hands full in this regard. England just have too many passengers in the side and frequently the exasperated cricket fan who just wants to see some good cricket particularly from the game’s pioneers has asked the question – is this the best that England can come up with? The sub-standard showing of most of his teammates had its effect on Root and as he himself put it while announcing his resignation “I loved leading my country but recently it has hit home how much of a toll is has taken on me and the impact it has had on me away from the game.’’
From England’s viewpoint they would be hoping that a change in the captaincy might bring a change in their fortunes. In the meantime let us salute Root the captain whom no one can accuse of not having tried his best. And at 31 he still has a lot to contribute as a batsman in keeping with his reputation as one of the quartet of leading batsmen in Test cricket.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal)