Growing Root soaks up lessons
Australia A 308 for 9 (Cowan 73, Paine 59, Hughes 51, Harris 6-102) v England Lions
Curiously for someone whose name suggests a secure, grounded quality, Joe Root was at a loose end on Wednesday afternoon. Heavy rain had ruled out any possibility of play on the second day of the England Lions match against Australia A and soon only the groundsmen and some security staff would be left at Edgbaston.
"I don't know what I'm going to do now," the young Yorkshireman said. "I can't play golf because it's too wet and windy, and I'll spend too much money if I go shopping, so I might have to spend the rest of the day in the hotel."
Frowsting in the dressing-room watching the rain tipple down has a limited appeal too. "We sit there and we wonder what time might we get out and we all pretend we're really good weathermen," Root said. "But at the end of it we're in the changing room talking rubbish to each other, and today I've ended up doing an hour's session in the gym."
As with all cricketers of whatever stamp, there have been too many such afternoons in 2012. Yet this summer has also seen Root emerge as perhaps the most likely candidate to fill an England opener's spot should either Andrew Strauss or Alastair Cook break a finger. And in a season when James Taylor and Jonny Bairstow have both been summoned from the cab rank of English batsmen, it would suddenly not be too surprising if Root was the next to be called upon.
Such impressions are only strengthened by innings such as that Root played in the second innings of the first unofficial Test against Australia A at Old Trafford. In a golden final session on the third day he stroked 13 boundaries in making 70 off 104 balls, adding 128 for the second wicket with Bairstow. One imagines that batting must be a very simple exercise when it is made to look so easeful.
"Yes, but that is sometimes when it's trickiest because you get lulled into a false sense of security and you've got to keep telling yourself to stay alert," said Root, who remains keenly analytical in his approach and acutely self-critical. "Balls keep coming into your areas and you're scoring quite freely and then suddenly you can get a good delivery out of nowhere and it can sort of surprise you. You have to keep yourself switched on. Jonny and I kept coming up to each other to make sure that was the case."
All of which made it the more disappointing that Root was caught when carelessly cutting left-arm spinner Jon Holland to backward point. "It was a poor execution of the shot and I was bitterly disappointed," he said. "Unfortunately I just didn't keep myself switched on, but as I keep saying, it's a learning process and I hope I can go on from that and take the lesson on board."
There was also a rather painful masterclass for Root in the first innings, when he gloved a lifting delivery from Mitchell Johnson to the wicketkeeper, Tim Paine. If the 21-year-old opener had read any of the reports about Johnson's inaccuracy, he insists that he paid little attention to them.
"It was the first time I've ever faced him and he bowled exceptionally well in that first innings," he said, of Johnson's 4 for 47. "What was it - 20 overs, four for 40-odd? It was a great spell of bowling on what was a tough wicket and it just goes to show how well the lads handled him and how well they did to get us into the position they did. I got a good delivery and sometimes you have to give the credit to the bowler. It was another one that I'll learn from. Johnson was number one bowler in the world at one time and if you come up against someone like that you don't take them lightly. I can tell you now that none of the lads in the changing room were thinking he'd spray it around."
It has been a good season for Root in Division Two of the County Championship, although one strongly suspects that there will be better ones to come. He has scored 644 runs for Yorkshire in 13 innings, with two fifties and two centuries. His unbeaten 222 against Hampshire may eventually be viewed as something a breakthrough innings: it won plaudits from the press box and from both dressing rooms, where experienced Test players were amazed by the composure and maturity of the young batsman.
Predictably, perhaps, Root is courteous in accepting the praise but he lets all the talk about England wash over him, insisting that he "doesn't really think about it". He prefers to focus on the achievement of Bairstow, his fellow Yorkshireman, whose 139 at Old Trafford helped win him a place in the England side for the final Test against South Africa. "Jonny played a fantastic knock and look where he is now," Root said. "He got an opportunity in that second innings and he took it and well done to him. I'm really pleased for him."
Yet while Root concentrates on "staying in the moment" and enjoying the company of his colleagues, those who watched him bat at Manchester last week or at Southampton last month will still speculate as to the young man's future and how he will cope should he eventually receive his first Test cap. It will take much more than a wet summer to blight the development of Joe Root.