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May 8, 2013
A lot has happened to Joe Root in the last six months: international debuts in all three formats and a handful of match-winning contributions. The role of being England Lions captain, which was due to be his in the winter before the full side beckoned for his services, is another honour in a career that is moving in fast forward.
It could easily make some 22-year-olds giddy, but the underlying maturity of Root's make-up has already been one of the characteristics that has stood out. There are few signs of that changing.
"I am still the same bloke I was six months ago really, just six months older with a bit more experience under my belt," he said. "I will try and keep as level as possible and cricket is the best leveller as a sport you can play in. I will always try and stay the same bloke I have been and that shouldn't really change at all."
Although it is a heavy burden to place on a player so early in his career, the selectors clearly see Root as a potential full England captain - whether as a successor to Alastair Cook, himself earmarked very early for the job, or perhaps a little later. However, it is not a role for which he can draw from a wealth of experience.
"I've grown up captaining at age groups and a little bit of club cricket but not a great deal," he said. "It will be a good challenge to me and I am really looking forward to it. It's been a while, perhaps a year or so, when I did it in club cricket. I would like to think I will be nice and calm and collected, just try and have a relaxed approach"
While his captaincy record is slim he believes he has often "thought like a captain" and worked hard to ensure he has absorbed lessons from whoever he has played under. That includes the perhaps unlikely figure of Azeem Rafiq, the Yorkshire offspinner, who was Root's captain during last year's FLt20 and at England Under-19s level.
A more well-known source of advice is Michael Vaughan, who may be getting a call from Root before he tosses up with Brendon McCullum on Thursday morning. "I haven't called Michael yet but I might do this evening and just try and pick his brains and see what he says.
Root beaten to Lord's
"That's why I have learned such a lot because there are so many guys who are willing to voice their opinions and you learn from different experiences, things that work, things that don't. That's helped me growing up and I will try to continue to learn.
"I have always liked to try and help out when I can. As a young lad you sometimes have to let the older guys take charge but, especially coming back this year, I have tried to help out when I can. Hopefully that will stand me in good stead for the future."
It will be an interesting few days ahead for Root because Lions matches are there for various purposes. It is always useful to turnover a Test side before a series (New Zealand showed that in Queenstown on England's recent tour) but there are also the individual aims of those eager to stake their claims for future selection.
Then there is Root's batting position, which alters depending on who he is playing for. So far this season for Yorkshire he has opened (with prolific results in the Championship), while for England he bats anywhere from No. 4 to No. 6 depending on the format. At Grace Road he will be at No. 3. He admits to always thinking of himself as an opener, but also had the well-rehearsed answer of "I'm happy to bat anywhere to play for England."
New Zealand see the next four days as an opportunity to strike an early blow against England's middle order with Jonny Bairstow likely to join Root in the Test squad next week following Kevin Pietersen's continued absence with his knee injury.
"We were able to keep them quiet back home in the Test series and it's important for us to keep them quiet in this Test series as well," Brendon McCullum said. "How do we do that? We start that by keeping them quiet in this warm-up game and trying to add a bit of pressure that way. We will implement some plans against them to do that."
That will be another important test for Root. Being a target for the opposition is something he will need to get used to.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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