In Defence Of Joe Root, England's Lone Ranger, Who Was Let Down By Everyone Around Him
As the sun beat down at the National Cricket Stadium in Grenada on the morning of day 4 of the 3rd and final test between England and West Indies, Joe Root looked on helplessly from first slip, still trying to adjust the field as Kraigg Brathwaite hit the winning runs for the West Indies, who sealed the 3-match series 1-0. Root, meanwhile, slowly picked up his fielding helmet from behind the stumps and strode off into the distance, perhaps contemplating the consequences of yet another series loss away from home.
He was perhaps wondering how it had come to this, particularly under his watch. After all, Root made his debut in the drawn 4th test against India at Nagpur, which ensured England ended their 28-year wait for a series win in India. As was the case in the aftermath of the Ashes, former players and pundits from all around the globe were calling for his head as England suffered their 5th successive series loss, their worst run in history.
On a personal note, he did have a good series with the bat, scoring two masterful centuries in the first two tests. But once he failed, England's batting was a disaster waiting to happen as they crumbled like a pack of cards.
But once again, for the umpteenth time in the last six years, Root came out defending his team after the game, saying there were learnings to be had and that he still believed he was the right man for the job. But two weeks on from the defeat in the Caribbean and hopefully getting time to reflect on his team's performances, Root announced that he will be relinquishing his role as England Test captain.
Michael Vaughan mentioned, "I knew in 2008 at the start of that summer that I would stand down. As England captain, you just know when your race is run." And Root, after realizing the state he led English cricket into, knew he had to go.
Root mentioned in his statement: "I have loved leading my country, but recently it’s hit home how much of a toll it has taken on me and the impact it has had on me away from the game.” There's no telling how much effort and hard work he put into his role as England's captain and after five years, it does take its toll.
Everyone, including Root, might have seen it coming. It was actually a miracle he avoided the sack after the Three Lions' Ashes debacle in Australia, where they were destroyed 4-0. It was simply down to the fact that there was nobody else for the job that he clung to it. But was it purely down to his tactical inability and his failure to inspire his troops that led to his dismissal?
In 2021, Joe Root scored 27.89% of England's runs in Test cricket, which included tours to India, Australia, and Sri Lanka and a home summer consisting of India and England. This stat perhaps best signifies Root's golden year in Test cricket or, perhaps more aptly, the sorry state that England's test batting currently finds itself in.
Apart from Root and Ben Stokes, no other batsman would warrant a place in the test side and no other would get into the batting line-ups of the top cricketing nations in the world. Of the English batsmen who have made their debut in the last six years in test cricket, the highest average is 31.53 of that of Ben Foakes. A captain is as good as his players and quite simply, England has failed to produce a top-class batsman over the past six years.
So, even though Root had one of the finest 12 months of anybody in the history of the game, with 1708 runs at an average of 61, England still managed only 1 victory in their last 17 tests, signifying the extent to which Root has carried England's batting.
It is to be noted that England's batting decline has coincided with the rise of white-ball cricket in the country. Blame should be placed on the ECB as well, who have for years neglected the first-class game in chase of T20 dollars. The County system, which produced the likes of Alaister Cook, Michael Vaughan, and Root himself, is struggling to produce batsmen who are ready for international cricket.
The root isn't immune to criticism either. His dream of becoming an Ashes-winning captain never materialized as he led England in two 4-0 losses down under and a 2-2 draw at home, the first in 18 years. His selection calls over the years have been baffling to see. Players like Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, and Jos Buttler fell who performed very well under Cook and fell off a cliff under his leadership.
From a tactical point of view, he wasn't at the level of some of his counterparts like Kane Williamson and Virat Kohli either, something Geoffrey Boycott pointed out after Root's dismissal.
“Tactically Joe has not got it and never had it. If it’s not there I don’t believe you can learn it. It is instinct, a feel for the changing situations of a match and some experience helps. Setting fields and getting bowlers to bowl to them is crucial to any chance of winning. Having different plans for every opposition batsman is vital," wrote Boycott in his column for The Telegraph on Monday.
Root lost 26 matches as captain, which is the highest for an Englishman. Only Graeme Smith (29 from 109) and Stephen Fleming (27 from 80) have losses than Root but both led significantly more games than Root's 64. Perhaps the biggest regret of his tenure will be the way he handled fast bowler Jofra Archer. Root effectively ran him into the ground by using him for 44 overs on his debut at Lord's in 2019 and 42 overs in an innings at Mount Maunganui. Root later admitted that he should have learned to use Archer better before he sustained a chronic elbow injury that ruled him out.
Ben Stokes played some of his finest cricket under Root, with some brilliant innings in Headingley, Cape Town, and Colombo. Then there's his relationship with veterans Anderson and Broad. They did play some of their best cricket under him, but after dropping both players for the tour of the Caribbean, the relationship ended on a sour note.
Root leaves as the highest run-scorer for England as captain with 5295 at an average of 46.44. He has the most wins (27), most losses (26), most matches led (64), most hundreds and fifties, most fifties, surprisingly, is the 8th highest wicket-taker.
But whatever happens after this, Root had one of the craziest rides as England's captain and will still be remembered as one of England's finest.