June 7, 2022: It was in India that Joe Root first displayed his talent, technique and temperament. Unfolding his youthful skills before an appreciate Nagpur crowd a couple of weeks before his 22nd birthday he scored 73 and 20 not out as England drew the fourth and final Test to clinch the series 2-1 – the last time a visiting team has won in India. His knock in the first innings was particularly impressive. He entered with England a shaky 119 for four and did not depart till the score was 302 for eight. What caught the eye was his chiseled textbook strokes and it was already clear that England had discovered a potentially world class batsman.
On Sunday at Lord’s as Root got an unbeaten hundred on his way to reaching 10,000 runs in Test cricket and steering England to victory over New Zealand it was clear that he had more than fulfilled that early promise. In becoming only the second England batsman to reach the five-figure mark (joining his predecessor as captain Alastair Cook) Root clearly established his stature among the foremost players of his time and confirmed his place in the quartet of outstanding current batsmen, Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Steve Smith being the others.
These four for long were being spoken in the same breath but then Root for a short while did not appear to belong in this exalted status. The runs dried up, the career average kept going down even as the other three maintained their place at the top of the rankings. It wasn’t the added burden of captaincy that was bothering him for he notched up 5295 runs with 14 hundreds and 26 fifties – 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. But the big scores associated with Root eluded him – till last year when he struck a purple patch. 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.
Root’s captaincy came under the scanner especially as England won only one of the last 17 Tests under his leadership. He was considered too nice to be a captain though his record proved otherwise. Indeed, 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 an England captain and the plus and minus balance out. This had the experts discussing the all-important point – was 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 and to be candid England just don’t have many good players in their ranks.
One would like to think that Root will be relieved to have given up the captaincy. He can now fully concentrate on what he loves best – batting, running up the hundreds and double hundreds with all the class he oozes whenever he bats as he displayed in the just concluded Lord’s Test. He has 26 hundreds, five of them doubles but what will please him no end one suspects is emulating Cook and joining him in the 10,000-run club. At 31 he has it in him to go past Cook’s tally of 12,472 runs from 161 Tests (Root has played 118). He certainly has set a scorching pace becoming the first to get to the five-figure mark within his first decade of his Test career (nine years, 171 days to be precise). One can expect Root to set all kinds of records in the next few years but one thing is sure – he will accomplish all this with classy batting and strokes straight out of the textbook.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal.)