Root eyes re­turn to T20 ranks but for now Mor­gan just does not need him

Test cap­tain avail­able for York­shire’s Blast opener to­day Make-up of na­tional side means a re­call is highly un­likely

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Cricket - By Tim Wig­more

Two days af­ter the end of a Test sum­mer like no other, Joe Root could be ex­cused for tak­ing an ex­tended break. In­stead, he has thrust him­self for­ward to play to­day for York­shire against Not­ting­hamshire at Head­in­g­ley on the open­ing night of the Twenty20 Blast, re­flect­ing his de­ter­mi­na­tion to re­gain his place in Eng­land’s T20 side.

In the last T20 World Cup, in 2016, Root played one of the finest T20 in­nings in an Eng­land shirt. Need­ing a gar­gan­tuan 230 to beat South Africa and re­main in the com­pe­ti­tion, his 44-ball 83 steered Eng­land to a vic­tory of stun­ning audacity. In the fi­nal, his 54 from 36 balls kept Eng­land afloat from the early de­bris of 23 for three; without Car­los Brath­waite’s re­mark­able bel­liger­ence, Root would have been man of the match.

But since that game, Root has played just 23 T20s in 4½ years. The for­mat has evolved con­tin­u­ously, but Root has not had a chance to de­velop with it; he has been play­ing Test or one-day in­ter­na­tional cricket in­stead.

A com­par­i­son with Babar Azam, Vi­rat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Wil­liamson – the three finest all­for­mat bats­men in the game and, in Azam, a man who looks des­tined to join them – is re­veal­ing. All broadly per­form the same role in T20 – bat­ting at three or oc­ca­sion­ally four and act­ing as an­chors.

Of the quin­tet in T20 since the 2016 T20 World Cup, Root fares worst on ev­ery met­ric. His av­er­age is the low­est, though still a re­spectable 34. More con­cern­ing is his strike rate – a pro­saic 7.3 an over, half a run an over shy of both Wil­liamson and Smith and a full 1.2 an over be­hind Kohli.

Root’s is­sue is less that he does not at­tack enough, but that he does not at­tack ef­fec­tively enough. When he plays an at­tack­ing shot, Root scores at nine an over, ac­cord­ing to CricViz – at least half a run less than any­one else on the list.

The up­shot is that Root is, by some dis­tance, the least valu­able T20 player of the five. But per­haps this is lit­tle won­der; since the 2016 T20 World Cup, Smith has played 57 T20s to Root’s 23, and the oth­ers have all played at least 91 games. Through lit­tle fault of his own, Root has sim­ply been left be­hind.

For all that Root’s pre-2016 record and ter­rific ODI record sug­gest a crick­eter with the at­tributes to be a T20 as­set, these am­bi­tions have hur­tled into a sched­ule that has denied Root a chance to push him­self into T20. He has still never played in the In­dian Premier League (he was un­sold in the 2018 auc­tion). Only once since the T20 World Cup has he en­joyed an ex­tended run in T20; then, dur­ing the 2018-19 Big Bash, he av­er­aged a mea­gre 15 over seven games.

The na­ture of Eng­land’s T20 team means that the side do not have an ob­vi­ous need for Root. Eng­land’s depth of T20 bat­ting tal­ent is un­matched in their his­tory. And they are re­ally al­ready ful­fill­ing Root’s an­chor role.

Jonny Bairstow, the cur­rent No3, is es­sen­tially a new-age an­chor from the David Warner school – as con­sis­tent as tra­di­tional an­chors, but with a greater pen­chant for clear­ing the bound­ary. Ben Stokes and Eoin Mor­gan can also an­chor if they are needed to.

In any case, Eng­land have less need for top-or­der so­lid­ity be­cause bowlers such as Chris Jor­dan, David Wil­ley and Tom Cur­ran can con­trib­ute with the bat.

And so while Root’s skills would be sought af­ter by many fine teams, the bal­ance of Eng­land’s line-up makes them less at­trac­tive. A Test bat­ting top six is es­sen­tially an ex­er­cise in find­ing the best six play­ers; a T20 line-up is about find­ing the best-bal­anced or­der, which mil­i­tates against Root. His T20 ca­reer is partly a vic­tim of the wider forces in the sport, and partly of sim­ple bad luck to be vy­ing for a place in the type of team where his mul­ti­far­i­ous skills are least valu­able.

None of this is to say that Root can­not make it as a T20 player; al­most all the lead­ing an­chor play­ers to­day once faced a mo­ment when it felt as if the de­mands of T20 may have left them be­hind. Eng­land may yet be drawn to his skills against spin be­fore next year’s T20 World Cup in In­dia. But, for now, Root is an em­blem of how bridg­ing the vastly di­ver­gent de­mands of T20 and Test cricket has never been more ar­du­ous.

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