Joe Root believes that England’s Test team require more “backbone” to win Test series on a consistent basis, and that, as captain, he will prioritise victories over entertainment. “There have been occasions in the past when we have probably folded a little too easily,” he said. “I want us to be a tough side to beat.”
Root’s words – carefully chosen, of course – should nevertheless be interpreted as a response to Tom Harrison, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board. Speaking last week, Harrison said Root and Eoin Morgan, England’s Test and limited-overs captains, were under direct orders to favour an intrepid, appealing style of cricket, even if it sometimes led to defeat.
But Root has recognised that one of England’s main issues in Test cricket over recent years has been converting positive intent into positive results, and playing according to the demands of the situation.
Astonishingly, it is more than four years since they batted out the final day of a Test for a draw. In that time, they have tried and failed on nine occasions, including three times on the recent tour of India.
“The small things are going to make such a big difference for this team,” Root said. “The most important thing is recognising when you do have to get a bit more serious, a bit tougher, find ways of playing for a draw or find ways of wresting the game back into your hands so you can go on and win. Be a little bit harder to beat on occasions.
“When we got on top, we destroyed sides and won comfortably. It’s just when things go against us, we have to make sure we find a way back into the game. Maybe a little more backbone, more grit on occasions: that’s something we need to talk about as a side.”
These were the values that took England to No 1 in the world in 2011 under Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower. And this was the England team Root first entered in 2012: on the wane, perhaps, and a touch joyless at times, but able to secure a series win in India and a draw in New Zealand through stubborn, backs-to-the-wall batting.
Naturally, Root is not ignorant of the need to play entertaining cricket, to reach out to the new, younger audience the ECB is hoping to attract.
Broadening the appeal of the sport is the governing body’s stated aim, with the new domestic Twenty20 franchise competition a central plank of that strategy. But Root simply feels that, given the players England have at their disposal, that part will come naturally.
“You want to entertain as a side,” he explained, “but people also tune in to see your side win. And it’s important, first and foremost, that we look after that.”
It is the same attitude Root intends to adopt in his captaincy. He has spent the past few weeks seeking out current and former players for advice on how to go about the job, but the one salient piece of counsel has perhaps been the simplest: score runs. Already, it is clear that Root envisions himself as a batsman who captains, rather than a captain who bats.
“That might come across as quite selfish,” he admitted. “But it’s going to be very important for me to set the right example when the opportunities arise. Over the last couple of years, my consistency has been fantastic. But, between 50 and 100, there have been far too many occasions when I have got out. The majority of the time, it has been a lapse of concentration or a loose shot, and that’s not good enough.”
Root will have to wait until July, and the home series against South Africa, for his first outing as England’s Test captain. In the immediate future, he will play one County Championship game and three one-day games for Yorkshire, before joining the England squad for the one-day international series against Ireland in May.
With a newborn baby at home, Root decided not to enter this year’s Indian Premier League auction. But his vice-captain, Ben Stokes, is making the trip, and will share a dressing room with Australia captain Steve Smith at the Rising Pune Supergiants. “One thing Stokesy can do for us is make sure he finds a little weakness in Smith’s armoury for when we go down to Australia,” Root smiled. It is, after all, just eight months until the Ashes.
Root also expressed his excitement at the prospect of live cricket returning to free-to-air television, in the form of the new English T20 league. “Sky have done a great job,” he said. “BT have been very good at doing things slightly differently. But you can’t beat the fact that it is going to be available to everyone. Making sure people have access to cricket on a broad spectrum is important.”
- Joe Root was speaking on behalf of BRUT Sport Style, the new fragrance from men’s grooming brand BRUT.