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Chris Silverwood praises 'controlled aggression' as Joe Root oversees England fightback

"Joe and I reflected on the Lord's Test and thought about how we could get better," says head coach

George Dobell
George Dobell
Joe Root is embraced by Jonny Bairstow after reaching his hundred, England vs India, 3rd Test, Leeds, 2nd day, August 26, 2021

Joe Root is embraced by Jonny Bairstow after reaching his hundred  •  Getty Images

It's amazing how a few days can change things. After the Lord's Test, the talk was of England's longest winless streak at home in 30 years and how Joe Root had lost control in the field. Now, after a thumping victory in Leeds, Chris Silverwood, the England coach, found himself answering questions about whether Root is a "great" captain.
To be fair, there aren't many people claiming Root is a great captain at this stage. While he has now achieved the most wins as an England Test captain, he has also presided over 20 defeats. Alastair Cook's uncherished record of 22 hovers.
What's rarely questioned is whether Root is the right man for the job at present. It's hard to dispute he is. And, even as the obstacles have mounted in recent weeks - the months in bubbles, the withdrawal of some of his best players, a fixture list that does nothing to help prepare his team for Test cricket - his calm, good humour and top-class batting have kept England in this series. There's a lot to like - and respect - about Joe Root.
And he did learn from Lord's. Instead of getting sucked into squabbles, instead of trying to win games with words, Root ensured England retained their focus. Never was this more the case than in the field where, in the first innings, James Anderson was masterful and, in the second, Ollie Robinson and Craig Overton were relentless. It might be relevant that the catching was better, too. England tried to win the game, not a playground fight.
It was a point made by Silverwood as he reflected on the third LV= Insurance Test on Sunday. As well as praising the "character" and "quiet confidence" of a side who suffered such a dispiriting defeat at Lord's, he credited Root for inspiring a response.
"He reflected on the Lord's Test and some of the decisions he made," Silverwood said. "He does learn as he goes along and that's a great characteristic for a captain to have: to reflect back honestly and make a difference. And he's certainly made a difference this game.
"Joe and I reflected on the Lord's Test and thought about what we could learn and how we could get better. And I think there was a controlled aggression around what they did [at Headingley]: the way they hit the lengths hard, the way they put the India tail under pressure and forced them to make decisions all the time. I think you can be aggressive in a very controlled way and I think they got that right.
"Seeing him become England's most successful captain was superb. It's something I've been looking forward to for a while. He's in a great place at the moment and I'm really enjoying watching him.
"I think he's a good Test captain. I think he is growing and learning all the time. We saw that last week. I think there's potential there for him to be one of the great England captains. He's got the potential to be. If we win in Australia, we can have this conversation again."
Some will scoff at the idea that Root, who has captained England in more Tests than anyone bar Cook in history, is still talked about as "growing and learning" and in terms of "potential". But he does appear to have found another level with the bat and he has, at times, almost single-handedly kept England in this series. If he can keep improving with the bat, why not as a leader?
He may be faced with even more challenges this week. England are understood to be considering resting either Ollie Robinson or, in particular, James Anderson to ensure their long-term fitness. As the pair have 29 wickets between them in the series, the absence of either would be a major blow. Jos Buttler's availability is currently unclear, too, with his wife due to give birth in the coming days. Silverwood confirmed that Jonny Bairstow would take the gloves should Buttler be ruled out.
"What I don't want to do is break them," Silverwood said of Anderson and Robinson. "We've got a lot of cricket in front of us. The Tests are coming thick and fast now. They're back-to-back. It is difficult.
"These guys are giving everything, every day when we're out on the field. We've got to make sure we're looking after them, but I won't be making any decisions or judgments right now until we get to London."
With Chris Woakes and Mark Wood fit for selection, though, there may be a temptation to freshen things up a little. The performance of Craig Overton was also encouraging.
"They're both big lads, physically, and they've both got great character," Silverwood said of Overton and Robinson. "And when they're out there you can see that coming out for them. They both get into the battle which is great for the players, there's plenty of energy there. They are relentless with what they do with their skills and I think that sort of physicality and character does give you presence on the field."
An attack of Overton and Robinson might not have been what Root envisaged when he was making preparations for the Ashes a few months ago. But you have to play the hand you're dealt and, at Leeds at least, Root played it very well.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo