There are seldom players, especially youngsters who are fearless, dauntless of the task or the opposition in front of them and are willing to do anything to be the better player on the field. They invariably come out triumphant, because, as they say, hard work never fails.
Joe Root, the enigmatic Test opener for England, has been one of those youngsters who love to revel in the fight and lay down his everything to achieve a goal.
“The biggest thing about Joe is that the mental side of the game is easy for him. I’ve never seen someone that young have what you need to be able to perform at that level.” - James Anderson
Like James Anderson vouches, Joe Root appears so calm on the field, totally oblivious to the happenings around him. He focusses on the task at hand and makes sure that he completes it without a hitch. “
Right from his childhood, Joe was obsessed about the game”- states his proud dad Matt Root, “and he used to roam around the house with a bat, practising his shots as he went by.”
It is that commitment that has landed him this super stardom. The amount of time he used to practice befuddled his teammates and he used to get cross with himself when he plays a false shot. His childhood coach Chris Stewart reminisces that he used to play with one eye closed and still managed to find the sweet spot of his bat – that kind of talent does not come from birth alone, but by dedication towards honing the art itself.
The initial successes:
Joe Root was touted for bigger things even as he debuted for Yorkshire. The elegant right hand batsman had his ambitions set as he demonstrated his capabilities as a run machine right from a tender age. He started to play for his county side at a relatively young age of nineteen and his transition from the second division side to the first division was quick and smooth as he accumulated more than 900 runs on his debut season. His talent was quickly recognized as he was awarded the Cricket writer’s club Young player award soon thereafter.
In the following season, he bettered his own record and scored 1000 runs to emerge as the highest run-getter for his team. His only qualm as a batsman would have been his inability to convert good starts into big scores.
Root is a player whose style mostly reminds of Michael Vaughan. He prefers to wait on the ball, play as late and as close as possible. He is a back-foot player, who plays the pull shot and the square cuts elegantly. But his drives are full of poise and effective nonetheless. He is known more as a grafter. He grinds for his runs as he plays in a completely unorthodox fashion for a youngster. His innovations which include the scoop and the walk-sideways shots have been quite effective as well.
He has a systematic approach to his batting. He checks and rechecks his stance and posture before facing every ball and he would seem bent on perfecting his shot every time the ball meets the bat. His strength is his ability to preserve his wicket as he never succumbs to the temptation of playing a false stroke – an ability that is vital in surviving Test cricket.
The much awaited debut:
His debut was much anticipated after all the initial adulation he received. He joined the English team’s tour to India. It was a crunch series after the defeat at the hands of Pakistan. Making his debut in the final Test, needing a draw or a win to bag the series, Joe Root made a composed 73 from 229 deliveries.
“It was just the confidence he walked out to bat with on his debut Test match in India, two spinners bowling, we’d just lost a wicket or a couple of wickets and he walked out with a smile on his face, and went ‘alright lad, you OK, you’re playing well there’.
“And I was like… mate! I’ve played 90 odd Test matches and I don’t walk out like that. But it’s brilliant for English cricket, absolutely brilliant.” – Kevin Pietersen.
Root was the picture of confidence as he strode out to bat in alien conditions and against hostile spinners. His wicket at that juncture could have led to a collapse but he played diligently, working his way into the middle as he stroked his way to a debut half-century.
The limited overs saga:
Root was an instant success in the limited overs format as he scored four scores of above 30 in his first four innings including his maiden half-century. His success in the limited-overs proves his versatility as a batsman as he possesses all the variety of shots given in the proverbial cricketing manual.
His contributions in the Champions trophy were vital to England’s chances in the tournament. He finished as one of the top three run-getters for his side (173 runs).
The first Test century:
Playing against New Zealand, Joe Root was seemingly losing his touch with the bat. After a string of low scores in the tour to New Zealand, Root’s career looked in jeopardy. It was only a matter of time before he was replaced, with Ravi Bopara snapping at his heels with credible performances in the domestic circuit.
In the return series against New Zealand, Root made decent scores in the first test at Lord’s (40 and 71). He regained his touch and went on to score a magnificent century in the first innings of the second Test at Headingley. He scored 104 runs and helped England win the series 2-0.
Promotion to the top:
After the sudden retirement of Andrew Strauss, England was looking for a suitable replacement who could not only support Cook, but also lead the English batting in times of trouble. Nick Compton, the grandson of the legendary Dennis Compton, was handed the role in the Test series against India. He did not do too badly himself, but his performances were not enough to hold on to his position.
That was when the England team management decided to promote Root as the skipper’s partner. It was a brave decision by the youngster to take up the challenge, as a failure to grab that opportunity would have thrown him back into the domestic circuit for long. It was the prestigious Ashes series and he had to score to keep his position in the team. And he did score.
The Ashes success:
Having been promoted to open the batting, Root looked apprehensive on his first attempt, staying on the back foot for too long and fishing outside the off stump with minimal footwork. It did not work for him as the Aussie bowlers taunted him by bowling the fuller length and making him play forward.
“He’s constantly asking questions. He’s asking Graeme Swann about spin bowling, and he’s got so much experience in the batting line-up to tap into and he’s doing that. For someone that age to be so tuned in doesn’t always happen like that.” – James Anderson
Being the tough professional that he is, Root learnt to adjust his game to suit the rigorous expectations that comes with Test cricket. He came back strongly in the second Test at Lords scoring his maiden Ashes century and putting England in a very strong position.
He was precise with his shots and was prudent while choosing the scoring deliveries. Such was his domination that the bowlers had to resort to cheap measures to unnerve him which did not work either.
“He seems to thrive on the pressure and never seems nervous. When he was getting sledged by Shane Watson last week you could see him smiling back. From a bowler’s point of view that’s the worst reaction you can get. You want the batsman getting angry and emotional.” – James Anderson
He continued his good form through the series making two half centuries and a century in the process, helping England retain the Ashes.
The bar-gate scuffle:
The infamous incident involving Joe Root and David Warner threatened to destroy the careers of both the players, but the way Root handled it was absolutely brilliant. He made no fuss about the scandal and was ready to shake hands and move on. The way he played in his first match after the incident proved how much he is willing to sacrifice for the game. It was dignity mixed with professionalism all the way.
“Joe has the right character to succeed at Test cricket. He was under intense scrutiny after the David Warner story broke [the Australian punched Root in an unprovoked attack in a Birmingham bar] but he went out and played impressively against Sri Lanka in the Champions Trophy. Even though we lost, Joe got 70-odd at nearly a run a ball. That showed me he could handle the pressure”- Alastair Cook
Youngsters are the backbone of any sport to develop and be cherished and Joe Root is definitely one of those. At the rate he has progressed, he is definitely the ‘one for the future’ for England and World cricket!