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George Dobell at Lord's
April 27, 2014
Middlesex 64 for 3 trail Yorkshire 178 (Plunkett 56, Finn 4-50) by 114 runs
A few years ago a fellow turned up for a job interview at the BBC and, in a series of misunderstandings that would have seemed improbable even for a Carry On film scriptwriter, found himself being interviewed live on-air about an on-going legal case.
While it would stretching the point to suggest that Joe Root could identify with such a case of mistaken identity, it does seem fair to question whether he is benefiting from the over promotion that seems to have come his way over the last year.
Root, making his first-class return after sustaining a broken thumb in Antigua, found himself promoted to the captaincy for this match. At 23, he is believed to be the youngest man to captain Yorkshire in a first-class match since Lord Hawke who, in 1882, was appointed to the position as a 22-year-old.
The logic was sound enough: Yorkshire's regular captain, Andrew Gale felt, characteristically selflessly, that he should be the man to make-way in a Yorkshire attack bursting with players of England potential. He also reasoned that Root was the sort of character who could well go on to be an option as England captain one day and thought he would benefit from this experience. So he might.
Equally, however, Root might benefit from a period where he was able to concentrate on his batting. He might benefit from a settled position in the batting order - he has batted in every position from No. 2 to No. 7 in his 15 Tests - and he might benefit from a spell without anyone trying to turn him into an opening batsman when, at present, most of the evidence suggests he is better suited to a middle-order role.
His talent and potential is undisputed but, just as it appeared his promotion to opening batsman did him few favours ahead of the Ashes series in England last year, it is debatable what he will gain from the extra pressure and complication of captaincy at a time he is trying to win back a Test place.
Gale admitted that he had endured "sleepless nights" before coming to the captaincy decision.
"It's a great opportunity for [Joe]," Gale told the Yorkshire website. "We see it as he's been targeted as a future England captain and there are a lot of people in the past who have captained without the experience of doing so in county cricket. So hopefully this will give him some experience going forward.
"We all know what type of character Joe Root is. He'll stick his chest out and absolutely love the experience. He's a good lad, commands respect of his fellow peers and I'm sure he will grasp this opportunity and do a great job in my absence."
It was noticeable here that Root batted at No. 4. While the identity of England's Test openers is becoming clearer - it looks as if Sam Robson will have first opportunity to build a partnership with Alastair Cook - the No. 3 position is still causing consternation. With Ian Bell and Root both batting at No. 4 for their counties - Root confirmed after play that it would be his preferred position "in an ideal world" for England - there may yet be room for a return for the likes of Nick Compton or Michael Carberry. Indeed, in the unlikely event that Root does not win a recall, one wonders whether Gale's logic will see the experimentation with his captaincy extended further into the summer.
Here a rusty-looking Root - he has enjoyed only one second XI game since the broken thumb and, though he has regained full mobility, it still looks uncomfortable - was unfortunate to come up against a fired-up Steven Finn with a point to prove. Finn generated good pace and generally maintained a nagging line and length in conceding under three-an-over and, in a particularly good mini-spell, trapped Root on the crease with one that seemed to beat him for pace.
"He's obviously a fantastic bowler and, if he bowls anything like he did today that then yes [he is an international bowler]," Root said.
Finn's other wickets came when Adam Lyth was caught down the legside, an unworthy end to an innings studded with fine strokes, before he accounted for two tailenders courtesy of his extra pace.
That Yorkshire, inserted in conditions that offered some assistance to the bowlers, surpassed 150 was due almost entirely to Liam Plunkett. Coming in with the score 98 for 6, Plunkett counterattacked intelligently. Having taken three singles from his first 15 deliveries, he then thumped nine boundaries in his next 40, throwing his hands at anything wide or over-pitched and providing another reminder of the all-round skills that may well interest England's selectors.
Confronted with a demanding bowling attack and tricky conditions, most of Yorkshire's batsmen appeared to lack the requisite application. Alex Lees was drawn into pushing at one that swung back into him, Kane Williamson was punished for attempting a loose drive to a wide ball on the brink of lunch, Adil Rashid and Andrew Hodd wafted at deliveries they could have left and Gary Ballance pushed hard at one and edge to slip.
Had Ryan Sidebottom, on 4, been taken by Ollie Rayner at second slip, Yorkshire would have been 117 for 8. But, as it was, he helped Plunkett add 48 for the eighth wicket and give their side some sort of competitive total.
While there has been plenty of attention about the international credentials of several of the players involved in this match - at least five players have realistic chances of inclusion in England's squad for the first Test - there might also be some on the Middlesex bowling coach, Richard Johnson. Judging by the improvement in both Finn and James Harris, who has added a yard of pace to a package of skills that was already attractive, Johnson is managing to coax skills out of his bowlers that have seemed beyond David Saker of late.
Middlesex found life little easier in reply. Chris Rogers, pushing outside off stump, fell to a slip catch before Robson, who had flirted outside off on a couple of occasions, edged a good one from the impressive Jack Brooks and Dawid Malan, after a pleasing innings, was beaten by a straight one after a series of balls that left him. By the time bad light and rain brought an early finish, 13 wickets had fallen in a day of only 76.2 overs.
"I'm really proud to have the opportunity to captain Yorkshire," Root said. "There's a lot of experience in that dressing room and they almost captain themselves. Things haven't gone to plan just yet, but it just makes it more exciting for tomorrow. I'm relishing it."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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