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January 12, 2013
Joe Root's debut winter with England could not have turned out more strangely. If his first Test appearance might have been designed for him as he had licence to bat as cautiously as he liked, his one-day debut was quite different as he found himself asked to provide a crucial role with the ball.
Root has not been more valued for his bowling since he was 12 years old, a slip of a lad experiencing his first taste of adult cricket at Sheffield Collegiate, and given a few overs of phantom seamers along the way, but that was his lot on his ODI debut against India in Rajkot as he did not bat and then bowled nine overs as England held on for a nine-run win.
"That probably hasn't happened since I was 10 or 11 years old, playing my first men's cricket," he confirmed, "but it was fantastic and I wouldn't change a thing."
That Root's bowling option might become useful, certainly in one-day cricket, has been apparent to all who have watched him at Yorkshire, but he has been used sparingly in county cricket for all that. He has taken only seven wickets for Yorkshire in his career and bowled only 80 overs, hardly the sort of grounding for a high-pressure one-day international.
In fact, he had become best known for Yorkshire's habit of giving him the first over in Friends Life t20 before whipping him off before opponents measured him up, a tactic largely designed to provide more bowling options later in the innings.
But Root did his England captain, Alastair Cook, proud. His first five overs cost 17, matching the success of Suresh Raina for India on a day when part-time spinners did well. In all, he conceded 51 from nine overs, a sound return in a match which yielded 644 runs on a flat pitch and glassy outfield. Strikingly, he was trusted to maintain control more than the more experienced Samit Patel.
He was scheduled to make his ODI debut against India in Rajkot at No 4, but he was slipped down the order to allow England's faster scorers to take charge of the closing overs and, as they posted a formidable 325 for 4, he never got to the crease. His claims are perhaps stronger for a Test batting place, but England's top six is not overly blessed with fill-in bowlers and his adaptability will not do his one-day chances any harm.
"I've been working hard on the bowling to give the captain as many options as possible," Root said. "The aim was that if I possibly had a chance to bowl I wouldn't disappoint and be consistent as possible. When you are playing in atmospheres like this - full houses. massive crowds screaming and you can't hear a thing out there - it's easy to get lost in the game. That's fantastic - quite relaxing actually."
Mushtaq Ahmed, England's spin-bowling coach, is building on the preliminary work carried out at Yorkshire. "I've been working really hard for a couple of years now and working here with Mushy," he said. "I need to make sure it is going to be a really big asset for me in the future and take any chances of having as many options as I can to give myself the best chance of selection."
It was all a different challenge from his unexpected Test debut in Nagpur in December. On a desperately slow pitch, and with England needing only to draw to win the series, he was preferred over the likes of his Yorkshire team-mate Jonny Bairstow and Middlesex's Eoin Morgan and made a technically-accomplished 73 in four-and-three-quarter hours which perfectly suited his side's needs.
His first Twenty20 appearance in another England win just before Christmas probably owed most to a short-handed squad as Bairstow left the tour early for personal reasons and he completed a hat-trick of debuts across all three formats in Rajkot, where he was once again part of a winning side. He must reflect on all the tales of England defeats in India and wonder about how well things are turning out.
"There are a few guys out here who have been on two tours before and not won a game, so I'm really pleased for those who have put all that hard work in and finally come up with a win. As for me, I'm still 22 years old and I just want to play as much as possible and take the opportunity if I get it."
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