England v India, 2nd ODI, Cardiff August 26, 2014

Root rebuffs England criticism


Play 01:16
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.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Neil on August 27, 2014, 17:40 GMT


    Pity you didn't hold that until after the game. England's ODI side is a disaster, lead by Cook whose tactics and approach would've been laughed out of the 1980s. It's poor and one dimensional; the batting being the main problem. It's one pace, there's little aggression and acceleration and they still believe 300 is a good score. Cook, bell & Ballance must make way for the young, exciting powerful hitters of the modern game.

  • John on August 27, 2014, 11:32 GMT

    @James C Birbeck Dar on (August 27, 2014, 8:59 GMT) How do you work out that white ball cricket is a natural format for Stokes and Woakes exactly? Even at domestic level neither have brilliant stats. Stokes has a good SR (at domestic level) as a batsman but that's it

  • John on August 27, 2014, 11:31 GMT

    @RStow1987 on (August 27, 2014, 9:08 GMT) He did say ODI record and not ODs. That's still 7 more opportunities than Taylor and 9 more than Vince and Roy and (before today) than Hales. Lumb got 3 games and averaged 55 at a SR of 82 and seems to have been discarded so what is Ballance showing for England (in ODIs) that Lumb did not. His 40+ at a SR of just over 60 when Eng were chasing a 300+ total showed me all I needed to see. It looked to me that he was putting his stats before what the team needed on that occasion. Yes Root was as guilty on that day but Root has shown willingness to put the teams needs 1st in the past. Selfishness can be a good thing in test cricket but not in SFs. I already think we have at least 1 too many of similar type in the ODI side and Bell (esp in his current mood) is definitely a better pick and I'd probably pick Cook over Ballance right now although I'm not convinced by him either.

  • david on August 27, 2014, 9:13 GMT

    With Hales, Butler and Morgan in the ODI team there is the right amount of explosiveness, balanced by the sureness of Cook, Bell, Ballance. English ODI is in a good place going forward. (PS Looking good in front of the camera and having excellent manners are not to be sneezed at btw.)

  • Rob on August 27, 2014, 9:08 GMT

    @JG2704 I think Jonathan Buck is referring to Ballance's one day stats, an average of 52 and strike rate of 90, to show he can play this format and 9 innings isn't enough to judge him on at this level yet.

  • Dummy4 on August 27, 2014, 8:59 GMT

    In ODI's you look for hitters at the start, finishers, and plenty of players who can bat and bowl, to give you options. England are well equipped in this area at the moment (all rounders include Bopara, an excellent ODI bowler, Ali, Stokes and Woakes, as well as Buttler). Hales is an excellent opener, Taylor, Roy and vince all hit hard and often. So why persist with Cook Ballance and Bell in what is not their natural format?

  • John on August 27, 2014, 7:53 GMT

    @landl47 on (August 27, 2014, 3:23 GMT) I would say no. If we have Cook,Bell and Root in the same side there would be no room for Ballance. His average is poor which I wouldn't mind if his tempo was good but it is not. Why should guys like Buttler and Morgan etc be expected to bat desperately every time to compensate for the upper middle order's failings? I don't think you need to change it drastically but I've never liked Bell,Cook and Trott up top. Also in recent series' Cook and Bell still cop the flack for slow starts etc but a bigger problem area has been at 3 and 4 in terms of tempo - guys like Root,Ballance and Stokes. Root has had enough games where he has done well at a good tempo and to be fair to Stokes I think it's down to lack or quality as opposed to lack of urgency. I'd definitely stick with Bell - the way he's going about his job right now but like Swann/Vaughan I don't see us winning a WC with the balance of the side the way it is

  • John on August 27, 2014, 7:38 GMT

    @Jonathan Buck on (August 27, 2014, 6:51 GMT) Re Ballance having an excellent ODI record

    With an ave of 28.22 and SR of 71.95 - What part of those stats is excellent?

  • Owen on August 27, 2014, 7:37 GMT

    @lodd - agreed, they are a complete waste of time. Though it is not surprising that the players don't like to say anything interesting; look at the analysis given here in an article where Root basically said nothing, and imagine what would have happened had he spoken his mind!

  • ian on August 27, 2014, 7:23 GMT

    These press conferences do little for the standing of the game. There'll be copy in them, but why are players on an ad hoc basis called to handle them? This is, if ever anything is, a management concern. Root is inner sanctum, captain-in-waiting, indeed. Was there a ghost of a chance that he'd say anything critical of Cook, or the current setup? Do press conferences serve a purpose then? Perhaps. I think they provide opportunities for some of our cricketers to become politicians in due course. Speak lots of words and say nothing. Dhoni has been doing this for years for his paymasters - and he does it very well. Deference is all when it comes to Indian cricket - and it's catching...

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