May 28, 2014

A crossroads for Joe Root

Long hailed for his extraordinary talent, Root is still to quite make good. And England can't afford to give him the time they gave a young Ian Bell to blossom

Joe Root: neither rookie nor veteran © PA Photos

To slip briefly into ECB-speak, England are engaged in a programme of reconnection at the moment, so after a sparse crowd in Durham sat in gloom, both meteorological and metaphysical, and watched them get bowled out for 99, there was some talking to be done. Eoin Morgan continues to be impressively forthright. Lent weight by his position as England's best white-ball batsman, he is flinty and tough. There is something unforgiving about Morgan, a natural severity that separates leaders from followers.

The other face to front the media was a gentler one, that of Joe Root, who nonetheless sang the requisite song of contrition: "We don't want fans turning up for games and seeing a performance like that. It's quite embarrassing."

It was slightly odd to see Root adding to the England word-cloud (and sure enough "engaged" and "exciting" made their now-inevitable appearances there) but shorn of Alastair Cook by a groin twang; Stuart Broad, who is resting various injuries; Ian Bell, who did it last time; and Jimmy Anderson, rarely the chirpiest of souls in victory let alone a defeat brought about by poor batting, Root, at 23, had a measure of seniority.

As Derek Pringle noted in the Daily Telegraph, with 29 ODI caps, Root is "neither rookie nor veteran", and his batting seems to occupy the same uncertain no-man's land. An authoritative 45 at The Oval was followed with a callow dismissal in Durham, bowled neck and crop by Lasith Malinga's skittering outswinger.

From his earliest days in the England system Root has been something of a poster boy, yet it's only England themselves who seem entirely convinced by him. In this, he echoes Bell, who was quietly nursed through the early part of his international career. Bell's gifts have always been manifest, but it took a while for him to become the hardened, rounded batsman he is now, to produce unequivocal performances when no one else in the side was doing so. Bell was cosseted to a degree by the excellence of the team around him, a luxury that Root looks unlikely to enjoy in the near future.

Bell was baby-faced, too, and was stuck for a while with the pejorative "Sherminator" nickname, courtesy Shane Warne (as with many of the best barbs, there was an element of truth to it) and he went through a period where he lost sight of who and what he was as a player, trying to "impose himself" at the crease as a way of ridding himself of an unwanted image. Ultimately he did that in the only way it's really possible to do: by scoring runs when they are needed.

Bell could probably offer Root some good counsel. There is toughness in him, for sure: it's not so long ago that he made a tremendous one-day hundred with a badly broken thumb. He has coped with being ping-ponged around England's order, and it's anyone's guess where he'll bat come the first Test of the summer.

He has maintained an equanimity while it has happened, and there is much to admire in his strokeplay. It's perhaps unfair to compare his average of 36 after 29 Test innings to Bell's, which was 47 at a similar point, as 18 of Root's innings have been against an of-late lethal Australian attack. But Root does seem to be at something of a crossroads. If he cannot kick on against Sri Lanka and India at home, then it would be fair to ask some serious questions about him.

It's hard to articulate exactly what it is about his batting that leaves room for so much doubt. Perhaps it's just a contrary reaction to be being told how good he is all of the time. There comes a moment, though, when potential must harden into achievement, when destiny must make itself clear, when words are not enough. With England in flux, Root won't get the shelter that harboured the young Bell. All of a sudden he is no longer the new boy, and now that he's speaking for the team he will have to start producing for it too.

Jon Hotten blogs here and tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on May 30, 2014, 12:34 GMT

    He's going to be fine. I said at the time he was picked for the test squad that it was too early and I still feel that. However, he's only 23, an age when very few players are at their peak. If you look just at the present England squad, Cook didn't become a top test player till he was 25, Anderson and Bell later than that. Bell was Root's current age when he struggled through the 2005 Ashes series with only a couple of 50s to go with a bunch of failures.

    To suggest that he is at a crossroads in his career at 23 is a wild exaggeration. He's going to have some bumps in the road, but in a couple of years he'll be a top-class test player. Robson's 24 and hasn't played a test yet and Ballance is 24 and has played one. If Root's at a crossroads, are they over the hill?

  • Dummy4 on May 30, 2014, 8:23 GMT

    I cant help but think that if the England selectors had given James Taylor the same chance as Root he would have paid them back much more. Taylor has never let the England Lions down over four years. he must be given his chance.

  • Dummy4 on May 29, 2014, 22:11 GMT

    in this the Eng management would do well to learn from the aussie and the indian management who got in their brightest batting prospects in Kohli and smith at 5/6 to get them a feel of international cricket before making them poster boys and touting them as near future greats. Although root hasn't done too bad at all considering the situation of english cricket in recent times. Exciting times, Every single test team bar Zim have one very exciting batting prospect. Kohli, Smith, root, williamson, Mominul, Darren bravo, Umar akmal, Du plessis and Chandimal

  • Oliver on May 29, 2014, 21:22 GMT

    I think Root does have a lot of potential but he is going for a very competitive position at 4 or 5. Sam Robson should get a go at the top and I fell sorry for any middle order player, including Bell who has to bat at three, apart from maybe Ali. With stokes at 6, root will have to compete against Ballance, Taylor and maybe Morgan for the number 5 slot. Having said that, he'll probably bat at three and be brilliant and so prove me wrong.

  • James on May 29, 2014, 15:13 GMT

    He will be okay. I was unsure about him because he seemed very arrogant, and over confident due to the fact that he had come into a winning team and looked like he expected the ride to be easy. However, I saw during the tour of Australia that he had some real steel about him and looked like he didn't take his position for granted.

    He is talented enough and looks like he is made of the right stuff, he will be okay.

  • Steve on May 29, 2014, 12:16 GMT

    Whatever happened to new players being allowed to begin their careers at 6, and develop their techniques to the extra scrutiny of test bowling? Frankly it was laughable to tout him as a top 3 player so early on, considering his struggles getting forward and leaving around his off stump. Obviously has guts and talent but the step up to international cricket is too big to predict any but the most extravagantly talented will definitely succeed, and even they can struggle. Problem for him now is we don't have a settled, strong batting line up any more, so he has virtually run out of 'bedding in' time. Hope he succeeds against the moderate attacks we face this summer, whilst sorting out his technical problems. Apart from anything else, its handy to have a batsman who can bowl a bit!

  • GeoffreysMother on May 29, 2014, 11:54 GMT

    Chris Rotsey - That is a very, very good point. I'm not sure he needs to be playing 20/20 cricket at all and he does need to settle (as Pietersen did for a long time) in one position in both formats. Four seems a decent place in ODI's as long as there is an attacking batsman at 3 after Cook (or eventually Hales?) and Bell.

  • Dummy4 on May 29, 2014, 10:24 GMT

    Part of Root's problem is that he has not been allowed a settled place in the batting order - just about everything from 1 to 7. This cannot help. He needs to be given a role and told what number he will be for the next 10 matches so he can settle and develop his game. Second issue is that of potential burn-out. A month or so ago I read that Root, who plays all three formats, had played more days of International cricket than anyone else in the world over the preceeding year. This load contributed to Oetersen's problems and must be guarded against.

  • Mark on May 29, 2014, 8:34 GMT

    I still think he will have a good career for England but was never to swayed by the media overdoing it at the start, whilst now questioning his ability. A funny thing I have noticed is a lot of Aussie fans insist he is no good because he didn't score loads against them in the winter. Yet if you question the ability of Hughes, Kawaja, Marsh etc, they apply the arguement that they will be so much better in 2 years time.

  • GeoffreysMother on May 29, 2014, 7:26 GMT

    'He scored a hundred not so long ago' - three innings ago - and his scores in the other matches in the West Indies were pretty good. The problem Jon is that it is guys like you that talk up 'golden boys' and then quickly question their ability. You will do the same to Jordan and Stokes who will have similar ups and downs on their learning curve. Root had a tough time against avery good Aussie bowling attack (though he did get a 180 and an 80) in his first Ashes series. He might not be a Bradman or Hobbs but I reckon he will turn into a pretty good international cricketer.