Joe Root embraces No.3 berth in bid to revive England's Test fortunes

Captain puts no timeframe on tenure after being backed to lead post-Ashes era

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Joe Root insists he has not put a timeframe on his future as England's Test captain, but recognises the importance of getting a result on the upcoming tour of the Caribbean - a venue where England have won just one series since 1968.
Root was a notable survivor of the cull within England's ranks in the wake of their desperate display in this winter's Ashes. The team's senior management, Ashley Giles, Chris Silverwood and Graham Thorpe, all paid for the 4-0 defeat with their jobs, while eight of the players who featured on the tour have also been sidelined, including two of England's all-time greats in James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
However, Andrew Strauss, the team's interim director of cricket, chose to back the man who singlehandedly carried England's batting through a stellar year in 2021, even though he is already into his fifth year in the job and recently overtook his predecessor Alastair Cook as the most-capped man in the role.
"Clearly it was a disappointing tour and we massively underperformed," Root told reporters on the eve of England's departure for the Caribbean. "Off the back of it we have to use this opportunity for a fresh start. As Straussy's mentioned, [it's] a bit of a reset, and a real chance to take things forward. I'm very grateful that I've got the opportunity to do that as captain."
Despite his excellent recent returns at No.4, from where he made 1708 runs at 66.00 in 2021, Root will be tasked with an extra level of responsibility against West Indies when he steps up to No.3. It is a position that he has previously been reluctant to embrace, notably when Trevor Bayliss was England's head coach, but given that England lost a wicket inside the first ten overs in eight of their ten innings in the Ashes, he recognises that his team are in need of a more authoritative figure near the top of the order.
"I've expressed in the past that I prefer batting at four but I'm ready to take on three now," Root said. "I feel I'm very comfortable in the way I've been playing and performing over the last year or so, and I think it's the right fit for this team. To go and bat slightly higher up and, if we do lose an early wicket, support the openers, show a bit of leadership and responsibility and take the game on. Hopefully lay a bit of a platform to bat around."
The numbers back up Root's reticence - No.3 is the only top-six position in which he averages less than 40 (38.66), although he did make his career-best 254 in that role, against Pakistan in 2016. But, he added, after taking stock of England's shortcomings in the Ashes, he recognised that there was more that even he could give to the team.
"I think, naturally, as you come back from a tour, you reflect and you look at how things could [have gone] differently," he said. "I think that's the best way I can help us become a better team.
"It's the first time it's sat comfortably with me," he added. "It's the first time I've been really excited and not slightly apprehensive about it. I am coming into it having had a really strong year, with a lot more clarity about how I'm going to score my runs. I'm not saying that guarantees success, I'll have to work really hard to transfer those performances to No.3. But I feel excited about it, I'm very motivated and I feel ready for it now. I'm a lot more experienced, with more cricket under my belt. I feel it's the right fit for this team."
Root fell short of his own recent standards during the Ashes, making 322 runs at 32.20 with a best of 89 in the first Test in Brisbane. But, despite overseeing his second 4-0 series loss in Australia - making him the first England captain to lose twice Down Under in more than 100 years - he said he had no doubts about carrying on in the role once it had been made clear that the job was still his.
"No, I didn't waver," Root said. "I'm very passionate about trying to take this team forward. I'm grateful I've got that opportunity, I really am. But it's now very exciting, with that squad being announced, for us to be on the eve of that tour, to get out there and to really try and put all of the thoughts and all of the ideas and good feelings about it into action, and really put the wheels in motion and enjoy everything about it as well. It's a really exciting opportunity.
"I've not put a time limit on it, not at all," he said of his captaincy shelf-life "I'm very passionate about trying to help take this team forward. I'm excited about what's right ahead of us.
"Of course, the last couple of years in particular have been very difficult for a number of different reasons. Not just on field in the last year or so, but off the field as well. But again, this is a great opportunity to move things on again, and I'm really looking forward to that."
England's recent record in the Caribbean does not augur well for an immediate upturn in fortunes, however. Since their 3-0 victory in 2004, England have toured three times and emerged with two series losses and a 1-1 draw, including their most recent trip in 2019 when Jason Holder inspired West Indies to a famous win in the first Test in Barbados.
Nevertheless, Root says the team's sights are set on victory in the coming month. "I think it's important we get a win," he said. "It's a great opportunity. I know we need to turn things around and start putting in some great performances.
"I'm very passionate, I want England to win, I'm as big a fan as anyone watching. I'm just fortunate to be in this position to affect the games, I know that responsibility and I'm very motivated to come away with what would be a brilliant achievement, having won there once since the 1960s.
"There's some very talented players amongst that squad and they're the ones in the shirt right now. And they've got to take that chance. Collectively we've got a chance to do something very special. Historically, it's been a very difficult place for England to go and win, but what a chance it is for us right now."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket