How Adelaide turned the Eng­land cap­tain into a man

The Sunday Guardian - - Sports -

If you're go­ing north out of cen­tral Adelaide, you'll want to take a left off the Princes High­way, away from the tyre shops and hard­ware stores; down a smart, wide res­i­den­tial av­enue lined with sleepy bun­ga­lows and neat, match­ing gar­dens. You feel the soft crunch of pur­ple jacaranda blos­som un­der­foot. The heat is a still heat, stuffy and wind­less.

Ahead, the beige brick ed­i­fice of Prospect District Cricket Club gives way to a lush green oval with a mod­est sightscreen at either end. They play Aussie Rules foot­ball here dur­ing the win­ter, but it's sum­mer now, cricket sea­son. Noth­ing about this is fa­mil­iar. Your name is Joe Root. You are 19 years old, 10,000 miles away from home, and on your own.

You know no­body in the city, and no­body in the city knows you. They rate you pretty highly back at York­shire, and at Lough­bor­ough too, which is why the ECB have sent you to Aus­tralia to train at Darren Lehmann's academy for the win­ter. But here, in the scorch­ing sub­urbs of South Aus­tralia, no­body re­ally knows how things will work out. No­body knows that this quiet, round-faced blonde kid with­out a sin­gle Cham­pi­onship game to his name will be play­ing Test cricket within two years.

r maybe you do? The man who met Root at Adelaide air­port in late 2010 was Shaun Seigert, a coach at the academy. “I've done that jour­ney so many times,” he re­mem­bers. “I still re­mem­ber him stand­ing there, just this young kid. And you don't know whether they're go­ing to make it. But you get an idea very quickly. It was just that look. I asked him where he wanted to go in the game. He said: ‘I'm go­ing to play for Eng­land.'

“Now, all these ECB guys say that. But you know, deep in their heart, that they're just happy to play first-class cricket and sur­vive in the sys­tem. That was never go­ing to be enough for Joe. I never imag­ined that he would cap­tain Eng­land, but that's al­ways stuck in my mind.”

As Root re­turns to Adelaide this week to lead his coun­try in an Ashes Test, he has never for­got­ten the debt he owes to a city where, as he put it on Fri­day, he “made some re­ally good friends and shared some good mem­o­ries”. Root ar­rived at Prospect as an un­known, and left five months later as an un­known. But in be­tween, some­thing small and vi­tal changed.

Seigert saw that process from up close. Dur­ing those five months, Root toiled and sweated, graft­ing at the academy dur­ing the week un­der a hot sun, and then play­ing grade cricket for Prospect at the week­end. The work was un­stint­ing, soulde­stroy­ing at times. “We've got three core philoso­phies,” Seigert ex­plains. “Be­ing un­com­fort­able, be­cause top-level sport is un­com­fort­able. Find­ing a way. And the other thing is to be on the edge. We want to see you fail some­times.”

Root failed of­ten. He scored just 262 runs at an av­er­age of 29 that sea­son, mostly play­ing two-day, 90-over men's cricket. Nathan Lyon, now Aus­tralia's lead­ing spin­ner, was an oc­ca­sional team-mate. “He strug­gled,” Seigert re­mem­bers. “He got 70 in the first game, and made one or two fifties, and that was it. I re­mem­ber say­ing to him that he was try­ing too hard. Per­for­mance has to flow.”

They come from ev­ery corner of the world to train at the Lehmann academy - Eng­land, Bangladesh, the West Indies, Canada. These days, the young crick­eters are housed to­gether in apart­ment blocks. But in Root's day, they stayed with lo­cal fam­i­lies, of­ten as­so­ci­ated with the club. “Some­times the ar­range­ments have turned out to be shit,” Seigert says. “But he was lucky. He went into a good fam­ily.”

Barely a minute's walk from the Prospect Oval, in one of those large hand­some bun­ga­lows, live the Fish­ers: Craig, son Jason, two nieces Chloe and Emily, and the woman who ran the house. “I was his mum for six months,” laughs Tif­fany Fisher. “I'm what I call a su­per­mum. I keep a clean, struc­tured house. And I'm very fussy. I al­ways say: if you live in my house, you're one of my chil­dren.”

Tif­fany was on the Prospect com­mit­tee, in charge of ca­ter­ing, kit and a lot of the “girls' jobs”, as she puts it. “So they asked me: ‘Tiff, we've got this player com­ing, he's only 19, we re­ally want to look after him, will you take him?' So I did. I had the room.”

With his real fam­ily on the other side of the world, Root set­tled into life with the Fish­ers. And by all ac­counts, he was a per­fect house guest. “He's just the most beau­ti­ful per­son,” Tif­fany says. “A well-grounded kid. He hasn't been pam­pered. He's very grate­ful and very hum­ble. It would be noth­ing for him to put the ket­tle on and make cups of tea after din­ner, or help dry dishes. Any­thing we asked of him, he would help out.”

Prospect cricket club, where Root cut his teeth (In­de­pen­dent) Con­versely, Root had a favour of his own to ask. “He came with a diet sheet,” Tif­fany re­mem­bers. “And he was so coy about it. Be­cause back at 19, he was a lit­tle bit… heav­ier, chub­bier than they wanted him to be. THE IN­DE­PEN­DENT

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