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August 26, 2014
Cook's our leader - Root
It does not seem two minutes since Joe Root was making his first steps in the England side and reading so many descriptions of how childlike he still looked that he might have been preparing for the Primary School prom. Yet he is already England's only batsman in the top 10 of the Test rankings and with Alastair Cook's position as Test captain assured again, he is widely perceived as the captain in waiting.
In the two years or so that it has taken for England's more fashionable areas to decide that their precious 11-year-olds heading to big school must have an expensive party to send them on their way (give it another decade and infants will be wearing dinner jackets in push chairs after leaving Nursery), Root has represented England 62 times. That is already more times than most of these Primary School prommers will have handed in homework. Life rushes on apace.
So it was in Cardiff that Root, at only 23, was entrusted with England's most pressing role: not runs against India in the second Royal London ODI - that task will come tomorrow - but a spot of stout defending against the outcry by Graeme Swann and Michael Vaughan, two former England cricketers of repute, concerning England's one-day policy.
To précis: according to Swann and Vaughan, Cook should have followed up his Test triumph against India by recognising his limitations as a one-day batsman and voluntarily stood down as ODI captain, and England have no chance of winning the World Cup because their approach is old fashioned and world weary, Cook being just one of many examples.
It would have been more educational if Peter Moores, the coach, or even the national selector James Whitaker, had answered the charges, but England do not like to dance to the media's tune so Young Joe was charged with a thankless job where he was professionally bound to remain optimistic, protect spirits and defuse criticism.
To be fair to England, at least they make somebody available; India's players are allowed minimal interaction except through officially-approved channels and even then they are best advised not to show a spark of individuality for fear of offending the Thought Police above them.
Root warmed to his task by saying "momentum" three times in as many sentences and, for once, this most overused sporting cliché had a point to it. England's unwillingness to shake up their one-day squad arose partly from the momentum gained in their 3-1 success in the Test series. Swann and Vaughan argued that they should see the Test side as two different entities. What the selectors saw was the big Mo, players happy and successful again and clung to it with gratitude.
Or, as Root loyally put it: "We know as a side where we are. We are comfortable and ready to go and ready to compete in this series. At the minute we have got certain things in place. We feel if we get things right and express ourselves how we want to, things will care of themselves. We just want to go out there with freedom to play and show what we can do: judge it when you are out there. We want to prove we can do that. This series is a great opportunity for us to show that.
"There is not much wrong with the batting order at moment. Guys have been picked because they are very capable of making big scores in a one-day series. Morgan and Buttler down the order - you have seen for a number of series that they can win matches on their own. Mixed with the rest, I think we have a good balance in our side. This series will be a good judge of that."
A plea to play with freedom was interesting. Swann railed against England's data-driven approach to one-day cricket where segments of the game were broken down into preconceived targets based on historical data. As one of England's most instinctive cricketers, Root would rather trust his own calculations, made out in the middle, responsive not to history but the challenges in front of him. Perhaps Peter Moores, in his second term as coach, will allow greater freedom than - judging by Swann's comments - were sometimes seen under Andy Flower.
Then the young man who will surely captain England one day was asked about Swann's belief that Cook should stand down. Did he agree? The question swung from the hand and he planted it to the cover boundary.
"No. He is a leader, our leader, in one-dayers and Tests, and has done well for a number of years. He is a fantastic player and he has got all of our support. He compliments well with a player like Alex Hales. As a team we are very excited and want to show we are a good ODI side. Starting tomorrow. "
Sometimes, the interest is not in the words said, but the person asked to say them. Root is shrewd enough to want to captain England one day, and even shrewder to know that he has quite enough to contend with at the moment in developing his own game in all three formats.
He was doubtless sent out to do a man's job, not just because he is perceived as a future captain, or because he is sharp-witted and affable enough to cope, but because Vaughan, who played at the same Sheffield Collegiate Club, is his mentor, and indeed connected to the same ISM agency.
The questions about England's top order will dog them throughout the series. Cook, having answered the questions about his captaincy, now has to sit another examination. Will Hales' presence as opener really be enough to offset the presence of Cook and Ian Bell in the top three, career strike rates of 76 and 78 respectively? Root's own strike rate, incidentally, is 79. In days of ever-increasing expectations, he must know that he still has some developing to do himself.
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