Root reveals signs of England's plans

He always said he'd do things his way and, at the Gabba, Joe Root has shown us how.

With his softly-spoken manner and boyish features - that wispy beard must have taken longer to develop than High Speed 2 - there might be a temptation to underestimate the steel of Root.

But beneath that gentle exterior there is a leader emerging who is prepared to defy convention and think originally. He has helped developed an environment, too, where this team is relaxed yet focused; a stark contrast to the nervousness of 2013-14. He has started this tour - as a leader at least - very well.

Root's influence was most obvious at the start of the Australia innings. Within moments, he had pushed a sweeper out on to the point boundary to frustrate David Warner.

Negative? Who cares. Warner could have the odd single but the boundaries he loves were denied him. Before long his frustration showed and he snatched at a short-arm pull. Dawid Malan, cunningly placed at a shortish mid-wicket, took the catch. It was the third time Warner had been dismissed playing the shot in the last couple of Ashes series, though the first time England had set such a field for it. A result of smart planning and disciplined bowling.

By then, Root had already introduced Moeen Ali into the attack. Appreciating that Usman Khawaja has a grim record against spin, Moeen came on in just the ninth over and in place of James Anderson. Within a couple of overs, Moeen had his man: Khawaja playing for turn that never came.

Some of these plans were devised in a meeting between Root and the team's interim bowling coach, Shane Bond. Using data provided by ECB analysts, they identified where each Australian batsman scored their runs, where they struggled and devised a plan. This was then passed on to the bowlers at a meeting a few days before the Test.

There's an irony here. Not so long ago an England coach was hounded in the belief - the largely mistaken belief - that he was too reliant on data. Not for the first time, we were reminded of the virtues of such homework.

Not everything England have tried in Brisbane has worked. Despite all their hours of toil with the bat, England were unable to capitalise on the foundation of 246 for 4 in their first innings. The fragility of their tail - it has a hint of diplodocus about it - and the admirable persistence of the Australian attack meant they were held to a total that was probably at least 50 short of minimum par on a sluggish, out-of-character Gabba surface.

The loss of three wickets for four runs, and 6 for 56, was an infuriating echo of a recurring failing. Trevor Bayliss talked, ahead of the series, of the need for the batsmen to "score 160s not 60s" yet here they lost four between the scores of 38 and 83.

But that doesn't mean the tactic was wrong. By forcing Australia's bowlers into a fourth session, England gave themselves every chance to exploit an attack containing just three seamers. And, by the time Malan top-edged a hook to end his excellent fifth-wicket stand with Moeen Ali, it looked as if they were nearly there. The pace of the seamers had dropped just a touch and, had they been able to bat for another 30 minutes or so, Steve Smith might have started to struggle for options. That Australia stayed in the game speaks volumes for the persistence - and fitness - of Pat Cummins, in particular, and the effectiveness of the spinner, Nathan Lyon.

"Root knows he doesn't have the bowlers to blast Australia out or batsmen to counterattack"

It was similar when Smith batted. With the score on 4 for 76, there might have been a temptation to attack Smith in conventional fashion. Instead, Moeen bowled to Smith with four men on the boundary - testing his patience, prodding at his ego - while James Anderson bowled at him with a leg slip, one conventional slip, two men out for the hook and a short mid-wicket. Smith went, at times, more than an hour without a boundary, but he responded with a wonderfully patient, responsible innings that has kept his side in the match.

"He is an outstanding player," Anderson said afterwards. "His record speaks for itself. None of our plans have worked for him so far but we have loads."

Maybe, had an edge from Shaun Marsh on 9 gone to hand - Alastair Cook appeared just a little slow to get down to a desperately tough chance - England may have made further inroads. As it was, Stuart Broad bowled with two short mid-offs, a short cover and two short mid-ons, but the batsmen held firm.

If England had an express fast bowler or a spinner like Shane Warne, they would no doubt have attacked in a more conventional fashion. If the conditions had offered more in the air or off the seam, we might have seen three slips and a gully.

But you have to play the hand you're dealt, not the hand you wish you had been dealt. And Root knows he doesn't have the bowlers to blast Australia out or batsmen to counterattack. Not on this surface, anyway. England have played intelligent, mature cricket and, after two days of this match, there's nothing between the sides.

England captains of the recent past have not been like this. Both Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss were quite formulaic though, in Strauss' case, he had the players to justify it. You could, however, predict the bowling changes and fielding positions with remarkable accuracy.

Root doesn't have the option of Graeme Swann at his best. He knows, too, that his senior seamers are just a little slower and his batsmen lack the genius of Kevin Pietersen or the efficiency of early-days Jonathan Trott. So he has to work that bit harder to earn wickets, that bit harder to forge a team spirit. He doesn't have a handful of aces but the early signs are he is playing what he has with some skill. The dressing room will have taken great confidence from the fact that the three "unknowns" in the top five all passed 50.

This style isn't entirely typical of 'new England'. Under Bayliss, in particular, there has been a tendency for England to play cricket which has sometimes been more aggressive than smart. But both he and Root have learned that sometimes you have to dare to be dull, dare to incur the wrath of a home media who criticised England for playing "boring" cricket on day one, dare to play unfashionable cricket.

There are a couple of concerns. The first is that, even on this sluggish surface, England lost four wickets to the short delivery, albeit two of them tailenders. The Australian bowlers will have taken note.

The other concern is that it feels as if England are fighting with every fibre of their beings at every moment of this game. That, of course, is not a bad thing in itself. But the fear is that, should they relent for even moment, Australia will take advantage.

Overall, though, the first couple of days of this game have provided a reminder that you don't need a stream of boundaries to provide entertainment. This has been a gripping, absorbing encounter. Anyone who has found it boring should probably reflect that Test cricket isn't their sport. This could develop into a classic.