Has the burden of captaincy cost England its best batsman?
The skipper has lost his free flowing batsmanship that he was known for.
Joe Root has been arguably England’s best batsman over the past 3 years or more and inarguably its best technical player ever since he first burst onto the scene, on England’s tour of India in 2012. His technical prowess coupled with an unflappable temperament catapulted him into the upper echelons of Test cricket’s best batsmen of the current era, in a relatively short span of time, and marked him out as one for ‘greatness’!
However, when England’s long- standing captain Alistair Cook relinquished the post, the mantle passed onto his heir apparent – Root, in early 2017. Although Root, like Smith and Kohli before him, took to the role instantly, leading from the front and carving a memorable 190 on his captaincy debut against South Africa at Lord’s, subsequently leading them to consecutive series victories over South Africa and the West Indies, the wheels seem to be quickly coming off his captaincy rails in the current Ashes series.
While he started promisingly enough, setting creative fields to combat Australia’s prolific run scoring captain Steve Smith and their explosive opener David Warner at the Gabba, the early promise soon gave way to resigned helplessness and confusion. He blundered by putting Australia in at Adelaide and once they got to 442, that decision seemed to weigh heavily on him. The Ben Stokes incident had already cast a huge shadow over the series and that was followed by the Bairstow-Bancroft headbutt episode and then by the Duckett-Anderson beer pouring one and finally the unsubstantiated Anderson-Broad ‘mutiny’. All these could not have been easy for any captain let alone a young one in his first Ashes campaign.
Gone is the slow but thoughtful walk to the batting crease, replaced by a tentative and almost unsure gait. Even the steely resolve behind those baby blues have given way to a nervous gaze at the wicket. The pressure of being the leader of a team 2-0 down in an Ashes series, and also his team’s main batsman along with England’s off field antics have all clearly affected his batting. His scores of 14, 51, 9, 67, 20 and 14 in the series belie his image of one of cricket’s premier and most consistent batsman.
England were always going to rely heavily on their two best batsmen – Cook & Root, to score the bulk of the runs in the battle against the arch enemy, just as they relied on Cook & Trott in 2010 (ably supported by Strauss and Pietersen), if they were going to have a chance of retaining the urn. However, the poor form of Cook and the added leadership responsibilities on Root seemed to have all but put paid to England’s hopes.
A usually ebullient character, he now presents a forlorn figure on the field, confidence giving way to trepidation, clarity to confusion. It’s still early days in his captaincy career and the hard lessons learned in the cauldron of an Ashes series will stand him in good stead for sterner tests ahead. He may yet turn out to be a great captain for the Three Lions. But at the moment, England are in dire need of Root the batsman, more so than Root the captain and the burden of captaincy is clearly weighing heavily on his slender though capable shoulders and irrefutably robbing them of their best batsman!