Be a leader with ad­vice from Joe Root

As the most tal­ented English player of his gen­er­a­tion, Joe Root is has al­ways walked out to the mid­dle car­ry­ing not just his bat but also the na­tion’s ex­pec­ta­tions. Now he is cap­tain­ing the side too, he tells MF how he’ll use the added pres­sure to be­come

Men's Fitness - - Front Page - Words Nick Clark

Joe Root, for years the boy won­der of English cricket, has just be­come its lead­ing man. When Alas­tair Cook stepped down as cap­tain of the in­ter­na­tional Test team in Fe­bru­ary, there was no real de­bate over who should suc­ceed him. The Eng­land and Wales Cricket Board took less than a week to con­firm 26-yearold Root’s el­e­va­tion from vice-cap­tain to the top job. The York­shire­man is ranked the third best Test bats­man cur­rently play­ing the game and he has com­piled a stag­ger­ing 4,594 runs for his coun­try since first walk­ing to the crease as an in­ter­na­tional in Nag­pur, In­dia in 2012. No other bats­man has scored as many runs in Tests dur­ing that time.

As a bats­man, Root brings con­sum­mate tim­ing, a deft touch, im­pro­vi­sa­tion and iron stub­born­ness – pure Sh­effield steel – to the crease. And in the face of fire-breath­ing fast bowlers he rarely loses his sense of fun, of­ten re­spond­ing to 90mph bounc­ers fired at his head with a cheeky grin.

The Eng­land cap­taincy has long seemed to be Root’s des­tiny. He was picked out from an early age by his teach­ers as a player who re­fused to give his wicket away cheaply, one who learned quickly and asked the right ques­tions. Most im­por­tantly, he made a lot of runs. Talk of his be­ing cap­taincy ma­te­rial started early.

This all paved the way for his rapid rise through York­shire’s acad­emy and first team, then into the in­ter­na­tional arena at 22. Over the course of his 53 Test matches he has a stel­lar av­er­age of 52.8, hit­ting 11 cen­turies and 27 half cen­turies along the way. That’s not to men­tion av­er­ag­ing 49.68 in one­day in­ter­na­tion­als, with an­other ten hun­dreds.

In­ter­na­tional cricket cap­taincy can make or break even the best play­ers; it re­quires strength of will, tac­ti­cal acu­men and strate­gic think­ing, man­man­age­ment skills and the abil­ity to lead from the front. Coaches and team-mates past and present be­lieve Root has those qual­i­ties – as well as the req­ui­site fire in his belly. MF caught up with Root to talk lead­er­ship and find out how he’s pre­par­ing for the big­gest year in an al­ready glit­ter­ing ca­reer.

It’s been a while now since you were named Eng­land’s Test cap­tain. What are your thoughts on the role now? Has it sunk in?

I’ve been play­ing a lot of white-ball cricket [one-day and Twenty20 matches] and I’ve been fo­cus­ing on that. I had to make sure the news didn’t de­tract from my game out there. Then af­ter com­ing back from the West Indies I made sure I had some down­time be­fore get­ting stuck into the cap­taincy. I’ve kept my eye on the cricket go­ing on around the world which has been very use­ful and ob­vi­ously look­ing at the sides we are com­ing up against in the next six to 12 months, which in­cludes South Africa, the West Indies and, of course, Aus­tralia.

When plan­ning for a tough Test se­ries, as the one against South Africa this sum­mer will be, where do you start?

There are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent things, but most im­por­tantly I have to make sure my own game is in good or­der, that I’m

do­ing ev­ery­thing I can in terms of fit­ness and look­ing af­ter my bat­ting. That’s where I want to start. Of course, I’ll then be look­ing at se­lec­tion and op­po­si­tion teams, at the chal­lenges we have to over­come if we’re go­ing to beat all those sides.

Your for­mer coach at York­shire, Ja­son Gille­spie, said it was the ex­act right time for you to take on the cap­taincy. Does it feel like the right time?

I haven’t re­ally thought about it in those terms, to be hon­est. It has more been about the ex­cite­ment of be­ing given the op­por­tu­nity.

What was Alas­tair Cook like as a cap­tain?

Cooky was fan­tas­tic as a leader, the way he went about it all. The re­spect he had in the dress­ing room, and con­tin­ues to have, is tes­ta­ment to what he’s done for this team. I feel very lucky to have in­her­ited a side that is very tal­ented, pretty set­tled and in a very good place to kick on and be­come even bet­ter.

What el­e­ments of Cook’s cap­taincy will you take into your own han­dling of the role?

It has been great to watch him go about the job. He led from the front in the way he played his cricket. He set the ex­am­ple in the gym and in prac­tice. He never asked any­thing of any­one he wasn’t pre­pared to do him­self, that’s a great trait to have. Now I’m re­ally ex­cited to see him con­cen­trate on his bat­ting, to see him re­lax a bit more and just en­joy play­ing the game. I want to see how many runs he can score, be­cause if he’s at his best we’re go­ing to be in a re­ally good place at the back end of this sum­mer.

“As cap­tain I’ve tried to go on in­stinct, to go with what feels right. It’s im­por­tant that I do what comes nat­u­rally and stick to my guns”

Does it help to have the for­mer cap­tain with you on the field or could it prove a hin­drance?

I think Cooky will let me get on with it and do it my own way. It’s nice know­ing you’ve got that ex­pe­ri­ence around to draw on and I’m very lucky to have him and two very se­nior bowlers in the side in Stu­art Broad and Jimmy An­der­son. Again, I’m sure they’ll let me get on with it.

How would you de­scribe your cap­taincy style?

It’s hard to say re­ally un­til I get stuck into it. Pre­vi­ously [in four matches as cap­tain of York­shire and Eng­land Lions] I’ve tried to go on in­stinct, to go with what feels right in the mo­ment. You ob­vi­ously have to plan well, but more than any­thing you have to re­act to what the sur­faces are telling you, what the con­di­tions are say­ing and what the op­po­si­tion are do­ing. It’s im­por­tant that I do what comes nat­u­rally and stick to my guns. I don’t want any­thing forced – I want it to be nat­u­ral and re­laxed. I want the play­ers to ex­press them­selves on the field. There will be times to rein it in though, and we may have to do that a lit­tle bit more than we have done pre­vi­ously, but I think it’s ex­cit­ing where we are with our cricket.

Which cap­tains had the big­gest in­flu­ence on your time in cricket?

The ob­vi­ous one would be Michael Vaughan. When I was grow­ing up he was Eng­land cap­tain, and that se­ries win against Aus­tralia in 2005 stands out. I’ve been very for­tu­nate to know him from when I was a young kid as well. He was quite an in­spi­ra­tion, both his cap­taincy and his bat­ting. I was for­tu­nate to have a few con­ver­sa­tions with him about the cap­taincy when it was an­nounced and I’m sure we’ll have a few more. He talked me through it, about how you have to learn your trade on the field, and tips for when you are in the thick of it.

Are there in­ter­na­tional cap­tains you take in­spi­ra­tion from?

[For­mer New Zealand cap­tain] Bren­don McCul­lum is one – he’s got a fan­tas­tic record. As a cap­tain, he al­ways did things to try and dis­rupt the bats­man, like set­ting funky fields at times. He was pos­si­bly a bit too funky but it would al­ways put some­thing in the back of your mind. You would ask your­self “Why is he do­ing that?” which could de­tract from your game. There are plenty of dif­fer­ent guys out there who have dealt with things in dif­fer­ent ways. I’ve got to find a way that suits me.

How will you work with your new vice­cap­tain Ben Stokes? He’s a fiery char­ac­ter – will he be your en­forcer?

If you look at Ben’s ca­reer, the more re­spon­si­bil­ity he is given, the more you get from him. I think it’s a re­ally good way to take his game for­ward even fur­ther than he has over the last 18 months. He’s quite a nat­u­ral leader and that will com­ple­ment my slightly more laid-back ap­proach to things. I think it should work re­ally well.

In­clud­ing you, the top four ranked Test bats­men are cap­tains of their coun­tries. Is that a quirk of fate or does it say some­thing about qual­ity bats­men hav­ing the right tem­per­a­ment to cap­tain an in­ter­na­tional team?

I think it is a slight co­in­ci­dence. It will be in­ter­est­ing when we come up against each other.

What can you learn from them?

For me it’s good to see that those guys have taken their own games for­ward af­ter tak­ing on the cap­taincy; it’s en­cour­ag­ing. I want to do that too.

Tak­ing on the ex­tra bur­den of the cap­taincy has af­fected some play­ers’ games neg­a­tively. How will you be able to avoid that pit­fall?

It will be a great driver for me want­ing to im­prove. When­ever I re­turn from Eng­land to play for York­shire, there’s an added re­spon­si­bil­ity to score runs; as a cap­tain there is the same re­spon­si­bil­ity. In the past, I’ve tended to re­spond well to that sort of pres­sure. It’s an op­por­tu­nity for me to take my game to the next level.

Will your game change?

It is a great op­por­tu­nity for me to rein my bat­ting in on oc­ca­sion, to make sure when I do get set, when I do get to 50, 60, 70 that I push on to those match-win­ning con­tri­bu­tions, rather than just a pretty 80.

How im­por­tant is fit­ness for in­ter­na­tional cricket?

The more you play, the more you re­alise how im­por­tant fit­ness train­ing is, es­pe­cially with the three dif­fer­ent for­mats and the in­ten­sity as high as it is – you have to make sure you put those hard yards in. Even if it means you are just stay­ing sup­ple, or do­ing 20 min­utes between games. Be­cause of the work­load on the field, you might have to take on lighter weights than you would want to in the gym, but you still have to make sure you put the work in. You do those lit­tle ses­sions to make sure you don’t miss any cricket.

Is there any­thing you work on in par­tic­u­lar?

I’ve had a bit of a dodgy back in the past, so I’ve done a lot of stuff around that in my fit­ness pro­gramme. There’s a lot of stretch­ing and mak­ing sure I’m nice and loose.

With all this added re­spon­si­bil­ity, will you be able to keep the more light-hearted, cheekier side to your game?

I would like to think so. At a cer­tain level any­way. Things may change slightly but it’s very im­por­tant for me to con­tinue to en­joy my cricket, es­pe­cially as I want the rest of the team to en­joy theirs. You have to have fun – that’s what keeps you at your best, be­ing re­laxed when you need to be. It’s so im­por­tant to en­joy it.

Can you still go for a beer with the op­po­si­tion af­ter a Test or is that a thing of the past?

It doesn’t hap­pen as fre­quently as it used to. I think it’s al­ways nice when you’ve played re­ally tough, hard cricket out in the mid­dle and you’re able to spend some time with the op­po­si­tion and chat things through. We’ll see if that con­tin­ues. It’s a good way to end a se­ries.

Root in Test ac­tion (above) against Pak­istan at Old Traf­ford in 2016. He scored 254 and 71 in Eng­land’s crush­ing 330-run vic­tory

Root, pic­tured on his way to 73 in an ODI vic­tory over Ire­land in May, is con­fi­dent the Test cap­taincy won’t af­fect his bat­ting

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