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News

Joe Root instigates move up to No. 3 for England's West Indies tour

Strauss says captain's promotion is "a healthy thing" at start of Test team's reset

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
09-Feb-2022
Joe Root and Ben Stokes walk out after the rain delay, Australia vs England, Men's Ashes, 4th Test, 5th day, Sydney, January 9, 2022

Joe Root will bat at No. 3 in the Caribbean  •  Getty Images

Joe Root told England's new selection panel "very categorically" that he wants to bat at No. 3 in the Caribbean and beyond, according to interim managing director Andrew Strauss.
Root has been in career-best form over the last year, scoring 1777 runs at 55.53 - including six hundreds - in his 17 Tests since the start of 2021. He has batted at No. 4 throughout (with one innings at No. 5 due to a nightwatchman) and his overall record is significantly better there than at No. 3, but Strauss said Root had insisted that he should "take that responsibility on".
Alex Lees, the Durham batter, is set to open the batting against West Indies alongside Zak Crawley, with Root slotting in behind them. With Ben Foakes likely to keep wicket and bat at No. 7, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and either Ollie Pope or Dan Lawrence are set to fill the roles from No. 4-6.
"The first thing he [Root] said in selection was that he was very keen to bat three moving forward," Strauss told Sky Sports News. "That came from him; that was his request. And I think everyone agrees that that's probably a healthy thing for the England cricket team at the moment.
"Our issues have been in the top three, top of the order. So we're going to see a new opening partnership out there with Alex Lees coming in and Joe's stepping up to No. 3 - that gives a bit of space in the middle order for some of those less experienced players to show what they can do but also show what they can do more consistently, which has been the big problem."
"We just haven't been consistent enough at the top of the order so Alex Lees comes in as a mature cricketer who knows his game well and it's an opportunity for him to stake his claim at the top of the order with Zak Crawley," Strauss added to the BBC.
"And more importantly, Joe Root has said very categorically that he wants to bat at No. 3, and take that responsibility on. That's quite a fundamental shift in itself and creates a bit of space in the middle order for some of the less experienced players to play better and play more consistently."
England have entirely dispensed with the top three that started the Ashes series, with Rory Burns, Haseeb Hameed and Dawid Malan all dropped for the Caribbean tour, and Strauss said that he accepted difficult questions would be asked about the team environment, and why players have not improved once they have reached the international level.
"You can look at a lot of the players we've picked over the last 18 months and I think they're all talented, they've all showed they're capable of scoring runs at the international level," he said. "What they haven't done is done it consistently.
"The truth is, when people start talking about a red-ball reset, we need to look at everything we do and say 'can we do it better?' That's from the domestic game, that's how we select our players, that's how we develop our players in that England environment, and that's the challenge.
"I don't think anyone can hold their hands up and say 'we've been doing this brilliantly', least of all the players themselves. They've got that challenge and obviously the support staff have as well."
Jos Buttler - one of eight players axed from the Ashes squad, appears to be reaching a natural conclusion to his Test career, not least with his status as Eoin Morgan's vice-captain and heir apparent in the white-ball set-up. He has averaged 22.75 with a solitary half-century since the start of 2021, and his glovework was below its usual standard in the Ashes.
Strauss said he expects Foakes to get "a decent run of things" on his return to the side, after missing most of the 2021 summer due to a freak hamstring injury, but said decisions about Buttler's long-term future would be made by the new director of cricket and coach.
"No, I don't think [Buttler's Test career is over], quite frankly," he said. "Those sort of decisions are to be made by the new director of cricket and the new coach, when they come in. For the time being we feel this is in the Test team's best interests and bigger decisions, more strategic decisions around that sort of thing can be done down the track.
"Jos has struggled a little bit over the last 12 months, his level of performance hasn't been quite what it was. And we've got a guy waiting in the wings in Ben Foakes, who's I think widely acknowledged as the best keeper in the world, certainly one of the top keepers in the world, and a very, very good batsman in his own right.
"He deserves his chance. He hasn't let anyone down when he has played cricket for England and hopefully he's going to get a decent run of things for the time being."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98