Written by Rex Clementine
Yorkshire tend to pick their leaders early and aren’t afraid to throw them to the deep end. Joe Root was 23 when he stepped up as Yorkshire’s captain against Middlesex at Lord’s in 2014 and saw the opposition chase down a target of 472 with seven wickets to spare. Nobody thought of him as the next Mike Brearley at that point. In fact, he was nicknamed ‘craptain’ by the Yorkshire dressing room. But like all good leaders do, Root matured with age. He skippered England in 27 Test wins, most by an Englishman and that sums up the story.
When Alastair Cook was reaching the twilight of his career, Root had emerged as the front runner for the job. He was obviously the team’s best batsman and someone who commanded the respect of the dressing room. He was 27 when he took over the job and was captain for five years overseeing some of the finest moments in cricket for England be it winning 3-1 in South Africa or whitewashing Sri Lanka 3-0, both away from home.
Under Root, England started winning in the sub-continent consistently. The captain lead by example making loads of runs playing spin expertly with clever use of feet. His only blemish as captain was not being able to win an Ashes campaign.
Root was pretty good in communications. England made some tough decisions during his stint and obviously while it would have been hurtful for the affected parties, there was no outcry in public because, the messages had been conveyed in a proper, professional manner.
Often, Yorkshire captains have been playing it safe kind of guys (Brian Close was an exception having won six of his seven Tests). Be it Len Hutton, Ray Illingworth or Geoffrey Boycott, entertainment was their least concern. But Root was different and touched on unchartered territory. The tenth Yorkshireman to captain England wasn’t afraid to lose, took chances and as a result his team provided plenty of entertainment. In the end, they won more Test matches too, missing out on World Test Championship finals narrowly.
Root’s stint also saw England moving away from the traditional strength of pace and backing spin. His horses for courses strategy worked. Rather than being hell bent on backing quicks in spinner friendly conditions, he was willing to try out new things. .
As a leader, while backing young talent, Root found a way to get the most of his seasoned campaigners too. He stood firmly by Ben Stokes during off the field controversies. His stint saw cricket being played in bio-secure bubbles and at times England were unable to put the best team on the park fearing fatigue for key players. Root held the team together during tough phases.
England captains are always under the scrutiny and Root did well as in his case the scrutiny was on how he skippered the team and not his off the field excesses. There was not a single reported affair, no spats with team mates or drunken escapades.
Some thought that Root was too soft in his dealings with the players. Not the most confrontational guy, having Chris Silverwood, another player friendly person as the coach wouldn’t have helped England’s case. It also did not help that England employed a split captaincy theory and Root did not have complete control over the proceedings.
Tactically, Root’s certain choices were under the spotlight like when he made Jofra Archer bowl 44 overs on deubt. It was not just one off as there was another game in New Zealand where the fast bowler send down 42 overs. A chronic elbow injury has now restricted Archer’s Test appearances.
But the good things outnumbered bad ones. England under Root stopped grumbling about conditions and mastered the art of playing in any conditions. The manner in which he developed young players was commendable and he is leaving the team in a better state than he found it.
Root recently broke Cook’s record for captaining England in most number of Test matches. He finished on 64 Tests as skipper. On the verge of 10,000 runs, by the time he’s gone, Root would have gone past Cook’s England record of 12,472 runs as well.