“I sat over there somewhere looking out the window and got told off for not concentrating because that was all I would think about,” says Joe Root.
The ‘that’ the new England Test captain is talking about is playing in the Ashes and ‘over there’ refers to a corner of his year six classroom at Dore Primary School near Sheffield where you could argue Root first learned about leadership and the personal skills that will be so vital in the next phase of his life.
On the wall of his classroom are letters the current pupils have written about the values they want to uphold in later life and their hopes and ambitions for the future.
Somewhere, probably in the loft of his parents’ house nearby, will be a similar letter written by an 11-year-old Joe Root, who paid a return visit to his school on Tuesday afternoon where April snow eventually swept in and the thought of an Ashes series felt as distant as the dreams of his younger self.
“That was my upbringing: you treat people with respect,” says Root. “Make sure you look after people around you and it holds you in good stead going forward in terms of leadership. Look at all the best leaders and they have those qualities. I am not the finished article but I like to think the grounding I have had and the background I have had and the way I have been raised will help me going forward. Hopefully that can be infectious throughout the side.”
In the corner of the school hall is a poster of “Our Sporting Legends”. Root is there of course, and so is Michael Vaughan, another former Dore pupil. Two England captains is not a bad alumni for a mid-size state school, and reward for promoting sport at a time when heads are under increasing pressure to produce academic results.
Returning to Dore along with Root was his former head-teacher, Ian Wileman, who remembers a boy who at a young age was admired and liked by his peers.
“He was a good lad. The thing I remember about Joe with the other pupils was that he was not revered but a good example. He got on with people, got on with things but the main thing was he would listen to people who had got something to tell him about how to play,” he said.
Obviously Root was captain of both football and cricket teams. “It was just something that came to him quite naturally and you wouldn’t think it was odd,” said Wileman. “He’d just say: ‘move around there a bit, you need to be a bit further back’. And because it was Joe and people respected what he said and did, that would just happen. He was a captain who led by example rather than what you might get from some kids: ‘Stand out there, that’s rubbish, get off’ – that kind of thing. He was not that sort of all. He was an encourager.”
Root is from a cricket family and it was at nearby Sheffield Collegiate Cricket Club that he learned the game. The school has close links to the club, the kind of model that Chance to Shine, the charity dedicated to promoting cricket in state schools, encourages.
Chris Stewart, Root’s teacher in years three and six, also captained him at Sheffield Collegiate and says his career path was clear from an early age.
“He wanted to play cricket, but he was quite good at art, good at drawing. Sketching mainly. I remember he drew his dad's brand new Audi TT. He drew it perfectly, absolutely perfectly. He got it to a tee. He was very clear that it was his dad's new babe magnet.” Stewart believes he could be the next Jack Russell, an artist and a cricketer, but the batting comes first.
“I didn't know he would go as far as he has gone but I always thought he had it in him to be a good county cricketer, but obviously there are lots of things that have to fall into place to be England captain, he was certainly a fantastic player right through his childhood,” added Stewart.
“During cricket in PE we just couldn't get him out. We used to play tennis ball cricket or wind ball cricket on the playground. We would try all sorts. Left arm spin, off spin, beam him, bounce him, we just couldn't get him out.”
Root still lives in the area, and brother Billy is on the books at Notts, but turns out for Colleagiate where Root turns up occasionally to bring on the drinks or put out the boundary flags.
“We see him a lot. My lad plays cricket now down at Abbeydale (Sheffield Collegiate’s ground) and for him, like these kids here at Dore Primary, to see Joe down at Abbeydale taking the drinks on like he did last year and coming back to his school it's just incredibly inspiring. Those kids know that he was sat in that school hall where they are sitting today and now he's England captain.”
Root is introduced to the children halfway through assembly and a bowl off is organised with two teams. One, England, captained by Root, the other Australia. A little bit of fiddling with the rules saves Root from his first defeat to Australia.
Conversation with Root naturally moves on to the Ashes, the tour later this year that presents him with an almighty challenge in the early days of his captaincy.
Australia plan to hit England with a four-pronged pace attack knowing how they crumbled to Mitchell Johnson four years ago. One of the four, James Pattinson, is currently knocking over second division teams for Nottinghamshire and will bowl at Root on Saturday in the Royal London Cup.
He knows what is waiting for him. “When you go to Australia you are always asked whether you can perform in hostile environments against high pace and every Australian side I have played against has had guys bowling over 90mph.
“There will be questions asked against high pace but I like to think that the guys are looking to improve their games and are putting in the work now. As a player I think you naturally think long term and think what is the schedule in the next year or so. So you don’t turn up to a tour and think 'right what do I need to practise?'. You have done it six months ago, a year ago. As a side we are getting better at that all the time and when it does come round hopefully the lads are prepared for it.”
Prepared like the 11-year-old Joe Root.
Joe Root was visiting Dore Primary School to launch Yorkshire Tea National Cricket Week with Chance to Shine. This year it runs Monday 19th - Friday 23rd June , sign up now at www.chancetoshine.org/ncw_s ignups