India v England, 4th Test, Nagpur, 2nd day December 14, 2012

Root fantasy debut stirs childhood dreams

Joe Root's remarkable Test debut, the sixth longest by an England debutant, was a soft-focus story suitable for Christmas
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Watching Joe Root walk out to bat for England felt like a Disney movie. To observe him carrying England's hopes of a Test series victory in India on his slender, young shoulders was to recognise a childhood dream. But we all knew it wasn't actually happening. Was it?

As Root's Test career began, fog and ice blanketed much of England and the talk was of Christmas. Half a world away in Nagpur, here was an innings much in that festive mood, an innocent story that might have been shot in soft focus, complete with Test commentary by Alan Bennett, except that it was more Wield of the Willow than Wind in the Willows. Parp! Parp!

Joe Root is 21, an adult Test cricketer, old enough for many years now to shave without cutting himself, but it is his lot in life that when he plays thoughts still revert to childhood and days are recalled when you, too, imagined that the ball you had just driven into a neighbouring garden, complete with a photographic recall of the Playfair Cricket Annual, was the first, small step on a Test debut for England.

There have been more than 50 England Test debutants younger than Root; it is just that most of them looked so much older. Brian Close, a fellow Yorkshireman, was the youngest of all, at 18 years and 149 days but surely Closey never looked as young as Root. They were very different animals: Close, called up against New Zealand at Old Trafford in 1949, was dismissed trying to hit his third ball for six. Close had a physical prowess that meant you would not want to cross him in a bar; Root would be barred from the bar until he had fumbled for his ID.

The joke at the start of the India tour, as Root practised assiduously in the nets, was that England were giving their mascot a go. It is the sort of observation to which he has long become inured. He has earned their respect now after producing the sixth longest debut innings, in terms of balls faced, by an England debutant.

In many ways, Nagpur was a perfect situation for him. A desperately slow, uneven pitch demanded infinite patience, reliable thought processes and limited ambitions. All that comes naturally to Root, who, from an early age, has sought to unravel the game with exactitude. There are times watching him bat when he seems not to be batting as much as cramming for an examination.

This was an innings that was battling without being battle-hardened, steadfast without being particularly courageous - courage doesn't really come into it when India field only one fast bowler who can barely get it above stump high - and precise without giving the slightest sense of sophistication. It was innings of youthful virtue and it was none the worse for that.

"I have been wanting and dreaming about this opportunity for a very long time," he said. "You just try and adapt to the conditions and the situation and make the most of what you have got. I tried to be as patient as possible and keep it as simple as possible. It would be wrong to say there were no nerves when you are waiting to bat in Test cricket for the first time but I had a good team around me and when I once in the middle I was very relaxed and in a good place to play."

Few players have been identified by England as early in life as Joe Root. It would be no surprise to find that his DNA was secretly mapped by the ECB - and at a time when it was considerably more expensive. He is not particularly athletic and has rarely scored his runs quickly but has been worth the effort because his instincts for self-betterment are immense. Fortitude comes in many forms.

From the time he first knocked up on the boundary at Sheffield Collegiate in the Yorkshire League, watching his dad bat with Michael Vaughan, an England captain in the making, Root has had tuition and good influences whenever he has needed it. His brother Billy is among MCC's 2012 Young Cricketers' intake. Opportunity and expert advice has never been far away.

He has not scored runs heavily at any level, not destroyed attacks in the manner of a young Gower, Trescothick or Vaughan, and his first-class record remains modest, but England have spotted something they like, enough for them to give him two extensive net sessions ahead of the Test before they preferred him to two more gifted but unpredictable alternatives in Jonny Bairstow or Eoin Morgan.

As in the best Disney movies, his innings carried a comforting moral message. As Root progressed through Yorkshire's age group sides, it was not difficult to alight upon conversations from a minority of lesser team mates deriding the fact that he could hardly hit the ball off the square, that he could not throw much further and that a slightly bow-legged gait gave away his lack of natural athleticism.

Perhaps there were times when all that was true. Even now, he is not about to power in a throw from the longest boundary. But while others fell away, some losing interest in the game altogether, Root's goal never wavered. India will have aged watching him. Root, though, perhaps much to his frustration, did not look a day older.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on December 17, 2012, 11:12 GMT

    One of the best debut I have seen for many many years,, It was just not the runs but the quality that caught my imagination. In todays T20 world it was heartening to watch someone as young and raw as him play like a champion -a la Sachin Tendulakar of 90's .Roots has got a very long way to go. All the best!

  • AKS286 on December 16, 2012, 17:55 GMT

    waiting for his century on third day but very well played in this difficult pitch. Root looks like young M.Atherton. i dont know why ENG were not replacing samit earlier. the inning he played of 73 is really awesome.

  • Hammond on December 16, 2012, 12:03 GMT

    @ jmcilhinney - mate I don't think any young Indian batsman straight out of Ranji Cup could play like that on ANY type of English Test wicket. Period. England clearly have the far stronger first class competition.

  • JG2704 on December 15, 2012, 21:36 GMT

    Have to say I was impressed with the way he went about the job and looked far more accomplished than one of our established batsman in his very 1st inns. What I also liked was the annoyance he showed at getting out - as if he wasn't happy with just getting a 50. That showed a huge desire in the guy. Good luck to him

  • 2.14istherunrate on December 15, 2012, 18:33 GMT

    I really did not see the unfolding of the Boy's Own type of dream or some childhoodfantasy, but a hardnosed gritty knock which showed considerable maturity. He may look boyish in some ways but look at the eyes. Not so boyish I fancy. A certain Antipodean regurgitates pastiches upon previous Pavlovian responses and I wonder whether even his fellow country men can stand him at all which is why he is in exile here. Boring is not the word.

  • DustBowl on December 15, 2012, 13:10 GMT

    Good article. It was the way he took the singles, on a difficult scoring pitch, by facing the bat (more safely) to the direction of spin, as sub-continent players do. Good temperament too; how much influence did Sir Geoffrey or Michael Vaughan have in his earlier years?

  • jmcilhinney on December 15, 2012, 12:51 GMT

    @ygkd on (December 15 2012, 01:16 AM GMT), your comment doesn't really make any sense. How exactly does the fact that someone may have identified Root as a potential England player early on translate to a reliance on foreign-born players? Exactly how has the development of other English players suffered as a result?

  • jmcilhinney on December 15, 2012, 12:47 GMT

    @Hammond on (December 14 2012, 21:50 PM GMT), no I can't but then Root was not playing on a raging Bunsen either, so the comparison doesn't exactly hold up. The pitch was tricky because it required concentration and dedication to the task but a set batsman who didn't get too adventurous was difficult to dislodge. Root did a fine job, no doubt, but there's no need to falsely denigrate the opposition.

  • on December 15, 2012, 4:33 GMT

    Joe Root did look rooted and what was amazing about him was the patience that we showed we could say that he was a timeless classic in this innings. A young guy from england on the debut batted like a Budda, which is a rarity in this fast paced world.I wish that this guy will go a long way and will be an asset to the world cricket.

  • ygkd on December 15, 2012, 1:16 GMT

    The fact he's not particularly athletic is not a problem. The fact he bats at snail's pace is only half a problem. But the possibility that England think it's a good idea to identify talent in the cradle, so to speak, and put so many eggs in one basket will ensure it's continuing reliance on South African expats.

  • on December 17, 2012, 11:12 GMT

    One of the best debut I have seen for many many years,, It was just not the runs but the quality that caught my imagination. In todays T20 world it was heartening to watch someone as young and raw as him play like a champion -a la Sachin Tendulakar of 90's .Roots has got a very long way to go. All the best!

  • AKS286 on December 16, 2012, 17:55 GMT

    waiting for his century on third day but very well played in this difficult pitch. Root looks like young M.Atherton. i dont know why ENG were not replacing samit earlier. the inning he played of 73 is really awesome.

  • Hammond on December 16, 2012, 12:03 GMT

    @ jmcilhinney - mate I don't think any young Indian batsman straight out of Ranji Cup could play like that on ANY type of English Test wicket. Period. England clearly have the far stronger first class competition.

  • JG2704 on December 15, 2012, 21:36 GMT

    Have to say I was impressed with the way he went about the job and looked far more accomplished than one of our established batsman in his very 1st inns. What I also liked was the annoyance he showed at getting out - as if he wasn't happy with just getting a 50. That showed a huge desire in the guy. Good luck to him

  • 2.14istherunrate on December 15, 2012, 18:33 GMT

    I really did not see the unfolding of the Boy's Own type of dream or some childhoodfantasy, but a hardnosed gritty knock which showed considerable maturity. He may look boyish in some ways but look at the eyes. Not so boyish I fancy. A certain Antipodean regurgitates pastiches upon previous Pavlovian responses and I wonder whether even his fellow country men can stand him at all which is why he is in exile here. Boring is not the word.

  • DustBowl on December 15, 2012, 13:10 GMT

    Good article. It was the way he took the singles, on a difficult scoring pitch, by facing the bat (more safely) to the direction of spin, as sub-continent players do. Good temperament too; how much influence did Sir Geoffrey or Michael Vaughan have in his earlier years?

  • jmcilhinney on December 15, 2012, 12:51 GMT

    @ygkd on (December 15 2012, 01:16 AM GMT), your comment doesn't really make any sense. How exactly does the fact that someone may have identified Root as a potential England player early on translate to a reliance on foreign-born players? Exactly how has the development of other English players suffered as a result?

  • jmcilhinney on December 15, 2012, 12:47 GMT

    @Hammond on (December 14 2012, 21:50 PM GMT), no I can't but then Root was not playing on a raging Bunsen either, so the comparison doesn't exactly hold up. The pitch was tricky because it required concentration and dedication to the task but a set batsman who didn't get too adventurous was difficult to dislodge. Root did a fine job, no doubt, but there's no need to falsely denigrate the opposition.

  • on December 15, 2012, 4:33 GMT

    Joe Root did look rooted and what was amazing about him was the patience that we showed we could say that he was a timeless classic in this innings. A young guy from england on the debut batted like a Budda, which is a rarity in this fast paced world.I wish that this guy will go a long way and will be an asset to the world cricket.

  • ygkd on December 15, 2012, 1:16 GMT

    The fact he's not particularly athletic is not a problem. The fact he bats at snail's pace is only half a problem. But the possibility that England think it's a good idea to identify talent in the cradle, so to speak, and put so many eggs in one basket will ensure it's continuing reliance on South African expats.

  • Lmaotsetung on December 15, 2012, 0:43 GMT

    One thing a lot of people haven't mention is that he may be a better bowler than KP. One inning does not make a career but just like Bairstow, it shows he belong and with the setup England has, there is no reason to assume he won't succeed. Could you imagine him and Cook opening? They could bore the opposition to death...lol

  • hhillbumper on December 14, 2012, 22:45 GMT

    It seems that England have unearthed another talent. The issue of course being that as he was born over here we probably should drop him for some brave soul born in Joburg.Well played Root heres to a long career. We just keep pulling players out of the hat

  • Hammond on December 14, 2012, 21:50 GMT

    Can anyone see a young Indian batsman, fresh out of Ranji Cup, debut against England in England with the score 5/130 odd, on a raging green top, and be able to play like Root did? Maybe internationally people should re-evaluate the benefits of the English county cricket championship. It is clearly one of the strongest first class set ups in the entire world.

  • A_Vacant_Slip on December 14, 2012, 19:58 GMT

    This guy Root look really good. All these people crying that England have no talent coming through. They are so wrong it is cringeworthy.

  • cheenu_balaji on December 14, 2012, 19:48 GMT

    He batted really well. Understood the situation - of the pitch, of his team's scroe...All the best for a bright career. It is really very refreshing to watch a lad bat like that in Test.

  • bumsonseats on December 14, 2012, 19:48 GMT

    great to see young guys come in an play a very mature innings that his team needed he looks a good test prospect i have not seen much of him even on tv but going by the comments hes also a good one day player. when we have our down under cricket followers raving about guys who are no more than T20 an odis playing test match cricket

  • Cpt.Meanster on December 14, 2012, 19:30 GMT

    The young man played well. All Yorkshire fans (including me since this year) should be proud of him. He's a child in terms of international cricket and already we see a lot of composure and grit. Those qualities cannot be taught. It has to come naturally. It's such qualities that made players like Gavaskar, Boycott, Dravid exceptional. A typical test attitude. It is boring, at least for me when players play like that but the format DEMANDS such qualities. I expect him to make that no.6 slot his for the upcoming tours to NZ and the subsequent Ashes series next year. Good luck.

  • BustIPL on December 14, 2012, 19:26 GMT

    Hopefully Joe Root will be able to keep up against formidable bwoling lineups. With this toothless indian bowling attack it is not that tough. Same happened to England as they could not face quality spin bowling in UAE and SL despite getting better of India who were the so called number of that time. It is easy for you root when India is confused b/w either playing in the ground or do tactics outside to expoit home advantage somehow. A part timer bowling bulk and a leg spinner purchasing wickets and still proving most expensive of Indian bowlers despite the slow pitch.

  • doubtingthomas on December 14, 2012, 19:05 GMT

    Too early to be singing praises. Give the lad some space please, he's barely been there.

  • mikey76 on December 14, 2012, 18:58 GMT

    Sometimes a player just looks good enough without necessarily having the numbers to back it up. Trescothick is a prime example of a wonderful test match batsman who came into the side without great FC figures. Lets hope Root is the same animal.

  • 777aditya on December 14, 2012, 17:54 GMT

    After Stuart Broad, another baby face! Hope he is as talented.

  • Dhanno on December 14, 2012, 17:38 GMT

    Nice article . I watched some part of his innings, on second day, after reading first day report. This one looked like a good old fashioned test cricketer making his way onto international circuit. We dont get to see them plucked so young (not the english/ aussie batsman atleast). Some like Clarke/ Hughes/ Cook might be far more gifted but an unassuming fellow like Roots was pleasure to watch indeed. In India that romance is lost, nobody scouts for a good test talent, we have to endure rainas/ yuvis/ rohit sharmas/ making test debuts and redebuts every few years. I think the last time I enjoyed a test innings from unknown player was Kane Williamson of NZ. It gives hope, there are young men out there wanting to prove worth in longest form of cricket.

  • on December 14, 2012, 17:05 GMT

    save him from evils of 20 20 and you might see next COOK in him... amazing inning, one built on patience and confidence... great to watch dead straight bat cricket for once...

  • RandyOZ on December 14, 2012, 16:28 GMT

    Oh yes, please English media hype up another average county player/

  • bumsonseats on December 14, 2012, 16:06 GMT

    its nice to see a young guy plucked out of county cricket and looking so calm and assured and looking like he had been there a lifetime.

  • sonicattack on December 14, 2012, 16:02 GMT

    Nice article, was impressed by him batting at Old Trafford v Australia A on one of the few pleasant days last summer in partnership with Jonny Bairstow - whilst the latter might be more eye-catching, I fancy that Joe Root may already be the more complete batsman, good luck to him.

  • 200ondebut on December 14, 2012, 15:24 GMT

    I wish him well. Hopefully in 15 years time we'll be able to look back on a fruitful career.

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  • 200ondebut on December 14, 2012, 15:24 GMT

    I wish him well. Hopefully in 15 years time we'll be able to look back on a fruitful career.

  • sonicattack on December 14, 2012, 16:02 GMT

    Nice article, was impressed by him batting at Old Trafford v Australia A on one of the few pleasant days last summer in partnership with Jonny Bairstow - whilst the latter might be more eye-catching, I fancy that Joe Root may already be the more complete batsman, good luck to him.

  • bumsonseats on December 14, 2012, 16:06 GMT

    its nice to see a young guy plucked out of county cricket and looking so calm and assured and looking like he had been there a lifetime.

  • RandyOZ on December 14, 2012, 16:28 GMT

    Oh yes, please English media hype up another average county player/

  • on December 14, 2012, 17:05 GMT

    save him from evils of 20 20 and you might see next COOK in him... amazing inning, one built on patience and confidence... great to watch dead straight bat cricket for once...

  • Dhanno on December 14, 2012, 17:38 GMT

    Nice article . I watched some part of his innings, on second day, after reading first day report. This one looked like a good old fashioned test cricketer making his way onto international circuit. We dont get to see them plucked so young (not the english/ aussie batsman atleast). Some like Clarke/ Hughes/ Cook might be far more gifted but an unassuming fellow like Roots was pleasure to watch indeed. In India that romance is lost, nobody scouts for a good test talent, we have to endure rainas/ yuvis/ rohit sharmas/ making test debuts and redebuts every few years. I think the last time I enjoyed a test innings from unknown player was Kane Williamson of NZ. It gives hope, there are young men out there wanting to prove worth in longest form of cricket.

  • 777aditya on December 14, 2012, 17:54 GMT

    After Stuart Broad, another baby face! Hope he is as talented.

  • mikey76 on December 14, 2012, 18:58 GMT

    Sometimes a player just looks good enough without necessarily having the numbers to back it up. Trescothick is a prime example of a wonderful test match batsman who came into the side without great FC figures. Lets hope Root is the same animal.

  • doubtingthomas on December 14, 2012, 19:05 GMT

    Too early to be singing praises. Give the lad some space please, he's barely been there.

  • BustIPL on December 14, 2012, 19:26 GMT

    Hopefully Joe Root will be able to keep up against formidable bwoling lineups. With this toothless indian bowling attack it is not that tough. Same happened to England as they could not face quality spin bowling in UAE and SL despite getting better of India who were the so called number of that time. It is easy for you root when India is confused b/w either playing in the ground or do tactics outside to expoit home advantage somehow. A part timer bowling bulk and a leg spinner purchasing wickets and still proving most expensive of Indian bowlers despite the slow pitch.