Mark Nicholas
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Former Hampshire batsman; host of Channel Nine's cricket coverage

England v NZ, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 2nd day

In Root, England have something special to savour

With a mix of David Gower, Graham Thorpe and Michael Vaughan, Joe Root can capture hearts and minds

Mark Nicholas at Headingley

May 25, 2013

Comments: 25 | Text size: A | A

Joe Root drives through the covers, England v New Zealand, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 2nd day, May 25, 2013
In Joe Root, English cricket may have another diamond © Getty Images

For those who saw it, the quality and thrill of the stroke with which David Gower announced his Test match career will live forever. The year was 1978, the ground Edgbaston, the opponent Pakistan and the bowler Liaqat Ali. The ball was more long hop than bouncer and with typical, priceless charm the most gifted batsman of a generation swivelled and pulled it to the square-leg boundary. As first balls go, this one did. The gasps of admiration - one huge self-satisfied British drool - were heard in every corner of the Empire.

Twelve months previously, Ian Botham had captured our imagination with his derring-do debut against Australia. Could it really be that England, the England of grim county pros and leaden grey skies had thrown us another diamond? Yes, it darn well could. Botham and Gower sparkled for more than a decade, papering over cracks in the English game that manifested themselves with alarming clarity once they had gone.

Wind the clock on some 35 years. In an over of memorable audacity at Headingley on Saturday, Joe Root drove through midwicket, swept past short fine-leg and then, after the New Zealand captain had rearranged the field to strengthen the leg side, reverse-swept into the off-side space created by the move. Think of it like this, six Tests in and the kid was taking the mickey.

Not for a moment though is this the reason we should celebrate. There is more, masses more to Root than a reverse sweep. Not since Gower has an English-born batsman of such pedigree caught the eye. Graham Thorpe was close but not so clear-headed. Michael Vaughan was every bit as good, but in bursts. Indeed, Vaughan's batting in Australia on the 2002-03 tour was as good as anyone in the modern era. Ask Shane Warne, who saw it from 22 yards away and felt that only Sachin Tendulkar had the Australians so covered. It is too soon to judge Root that good or, conversely, to wonder if his downtime could be so disheartening as that experienced by Vaughan.

What we know is that the basics are spot on, the temperament sound and the appetite insatiable. Like Gower, and like Thorpe and Vaughan, come to think of it, Root's game is set up on the back foot. This is unusual among English batsmen in the age of the covered pitch and unusual full-stop given the modern fondness for a forward press and a thumping drive.

Vaughan had two strokes that made his name: a truly beautiful cover drive, executed with a good stride to the pitch of the ball, a high left elbow, and a straight and free-flowing blade that preceded a lovely break of the wrists in the follow-through. And he had a killer pull stroke, made by the certainty of the cover drive, because bowlers dare not pitch too full.

In Root there is Vaughan's composure and presence, Thorpe's flexibility and accuracy and Gower's sense of magic

Thorpe could cut, pull and deflect with a surgeon's precision. He was a square-of-the-wicket specialist but with a punch drive down the ground that withered an ordinary bowler. But Thorpe fought an inner demon that messed with his belief. This, in turn, compromised his ability to change the course of a match as he might persistently have done. At his best - in Sri Lanka against Muttiah Muralitharan, for example - he could do pretty much anything, but his genius was elusive and frustrating.

Gower was almost unreasonably talented. The options at his disposal, the responses, the range, the variety that was given him, well, one wondered if such riches were a confusion. He could delight and he could infuriate but he emptied bars. No cricketer can have been so driven by the desire to entertain, save Denis Compton perhaps. The flashes and flights of fancy were as much a part of the show as the square drives and late cuts that seemed to have been conceived, never mind played, at the last possible moment. This was an artist with the softest hands, the most delicate touch and the most enviable timing. When he chose to apply it, Gower was the most fluent and enjoyable of English batsmen, a mismatch to the stereotype of the professional game.

There is a bit of all of these fine batsman in Root: the Root of Yorkshire, who made that fabulous hundred at Yorkshire's famous cricketing place on Saturday. There is Vaughan's composure and presence, Thorpe's flexibility and accuracy, and there is Gower's sense of magic, to go with that blond and innocent teenage kick.

Like Thorpe, he is a busy cricketer, stealing runs when they seem not to be there. Like Vaughan, he can drive from a perfect position off the back foot, which forces a bowler to change his length. Like Gower, he can score in a 360-degree radius thus challenging captains to find new solutions to an old problem, that there are only nine fielders with which to defend.

Unlike any of them, he has an awkward, rather crabby stance with his feet positioned wide apart and the bat set between them as it was with Bradman (no bad thing, I hear you cry!). He holds that bat at waist height, not so apparently as Graham Gooch, but a little more obviously than, say, Vaughan. The face is shut in the backlift but the wrists cock perfectly to allow free strokeplay. Better than anyone in the game today, Root uses the depth of the crease, giving himself more time to play than your average Joe. In this way, he is a throwback, rather as Gower was too.

Already he is my favourite current batsman, a position in heart and mind long occupied by Tendulkar. The attention and adulation seems to suit him, after all only Yorkshire luminaries such as FS Jackson, Sir Leonard Hutton, Geoffrey Boycott and Vaughan himself have made hundreds at Headingley and none of them managed it at the first time of asking. English cricket has someone special to savour. Buy a ticket if you can.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

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Posted by lateswing on (May 27, 2013, 16:37 GMT)

IMHO, a young Mike Atherton is who Root resembles the most, although he probably plays more shots than Athers did

Posted by YorkshirePudding on (May 27, 2013, 7:24 GMT)

While Root is doing good the test of a batsman is when they get 'found' out and hit a lean patch.

It was pleasing to see his disappointment at getting out after making his ton, as it looked like he wanted to bat on. I can see him opening the batting within 12 to 18 months.

Posted by shot274 on (May 26, 2013, 22:00 GMT)

Give us all a break Mark! He has played 6 test matches. 5 against New Zealand and 1 against India!!!Currently these must be the two weakest bowling sides in the world. Nobody in the Empire thought Gower was great because he pulled Liaqat Ali for four!!!

Posted by WakeyLee on (May 26, 2013, 20:09 GMT)

Above all else Joe has a knack of getting hard fought runs when his team needs them and adapts to the situation brilliantly. The yorkshire public better buy a ticket for tomorrow as they're not going to see much of him at headingley in the future...

Posted by   on (May 26, 2013, 19:06 GMT)

@ Raghu Sharma. Your comments would carry a little more weight if you had a better eye for obvious details "Johhny Bairstow" you don't even know where he is now? Erm he's playing for England - now - and got the second highest score in the match being played so far - just behind Joe Root who he shared a 124 run partnership. While their are examples of English batters who have flattered to deceive (and lets be fair - batters from every other country in roughly equal number as well) Using Bairstow as an example of "Hype to tripe" when he is playing right in front of us - at this precise moment - and playing so well on the test match stage - wasn't your best choice.

Posted by Herbet on (May 26, 2013, 14:04 GMT)

The shout for Carberry to open in the Ashes is a good one, as at the moment I'd be loathe to move Root up just yet and potentially destroy his growing confidence if the Aussie bowlers end up being good. Not only is Carberry in fantastic form, and Compton out of form, but he is a generally aggressive batsman as opposed to Cook, Compton and Bell who are nudgers and accumulators. England have been starting so slowly later that a quick couple of wickets drops us right in it and piles the pressure on Bell and Root, of whom Root seems better equipped to cope. Carberry is also an athlete and an excellent fielder. As much as I like Bairstow, and as much as it was great to see two young friends having so much fun in a high pressured international sporting event yesterday, it would be he who would make way for Pietersen as I feel he is not quite there.

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Mark Nicholas A prolific and stylish middle-order batsman for Hampshire, Mark Nicholas was unlucky never to have played for England, but after captaining his county to four major trophies he made his reputation as a presenter, commentator and columnist. Named the UK Sports Presenter of the Year in 2001 and 2005 by the Royal Television Society, he has commentated all over the world, from the World Cup in the West Indies to the Indian Premier League. He now hosts the cricket coverage for Channel Nine in Australia and Channel 5 in England.

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