The Cricket Paper - - OPINION - PETER HAYTER

When it comes to be­ing Eng­land’s best bats­man, a player de­scribed with­out pause by their high­est Test run scorer Alas­tair Cook last week at Edg­bas­ton as a “ge­nius”, the steely ma­tu­rity be­hind the boy­ish looks of Joe Root has been abun­dantly clear for some time now.

There were many, how­ever, who ques­tioned the good sense in ask­ing the dress­ing-room joker to be­come the hard man in­side it, when nec­es­sary, on the grounds that he would far rather be snip­ping the ends off socks or do­ing his Bob Willis im­pres­sions than deal­ing with the se­ri­ous busi­ness of be­ing an Eng­land cap­tain.

Graeme Swann, for ex­am­ple, con­sid­ered choos­ing him to take over from Cook as an act of pure self-sab­o­tage on the part of Eng­land’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor An­drew Strauss.

And while the 26-year-old York­shire­man has hardly put a foot wrong in the five Tests since start­ing his new ca­reer on the field against South Africa at Lord’s, any­one still har­bour­ing doubts over his suit­abil­ity for the tough­est job in Bri­tish sport would have been left with con­sid­er­ably fewer by his per­for­mance in the Press brief­ing on the eve of the se­cond Test of the se­ries against West Indies at his spir­i­tual home of Head­in­g­ley.

Gone for good now is the slight­est re­sem­blance to the Milky Bar Kid. Wel­come, in his place, Joe Roothless.

Toby Roland-Jones was the vic­tim this time, dropped in favour of the re­turn­ing Chris Woakes de­spite im­pres­sive per­for­mances in all of his three Tests since mak­ing his de­but in the third against South Africa at the Oval.

Harsh, maybe. And hard to do as well, ac­cord­ing to Root, who, as with Liam Daw­son and Keaton Jen­nings be­fore this sum­mer, made sure he told the Mid­dle­sex seamer the bad news and the rea­sons for it him­self.

But no Eng­land cap­tain ever won the Ashes by al­low­ing sen­ti­ment to get in the way of his idea of the right thing and Root knows he has ab­so­lutely no chance of do­ing so this win­ter if he were to start now.

“It was a very dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion to make, with Toby hav­ing come in and put in some strong per­for­mances,” he said.“I told Toby. As any­one would be he was very disappointed. But you wouldn’t want some­one to be re­lieved to be told they weren’t play­ing for Eng­land. The way he has gone about his busi­ness in train­ing has been out­stand­ing.

“It is not the eas­i­est thing to do.We are a strong squad and we need that to be a suc­cess­ful team over a pe­riod of time.

“It is great to know that Toby has been very un­for­tu­nate to miss out.”

Not so great for Roland-Jones, one might think, but that’s show­biz. And Root’s pur­suit of the com­bi­na­tion of bats­men Eng­land will need to with­stand fired-up man-eat­ing Aussie pace­men Down Un­der means, as with Jen­nings, when judg­ing if new boys Mark Stone­man, Tom West­ley and Dawid Malan are up to the task, from now on he wants runs not po­ten­tial, form not ex­cuses.

Although Gary Bal­lance owed his re­turn this sea­son to the sup­port of his friend and county col­league, the same clearly ap­plies to him.

“I think the only mes­sage for those guys is to go out there and take this op­por­tu­nity. It’s another week of hard Test cricket where, of course, guys are un­der dif­fer­ent pres­sures wher­ever they bat in the bat­ting or­der.

“If they want to nail down those spots they have to deal with that and if they get in make it re­ally count.”

As for the ques­tion of rol­lick­ings, or rather whether Root can ad­min­is­ter one if he had to:“I’m just wait­ing for that op­por­tu­nity, I sup­pose.We’ll have to wait and see when it arises. I think it’s im­por­tant that lads are clear if you’re

No Eng­land cap­tain ever won the Ashes by al­low­ing sen­ti­ment to get in the way of his idea of do­ing the right thing

up­set with some­thing they know about it and it doesn’t fes­ter.

“I wouldn’t say I’m the sort of bloke that will go out there with a hairdryer and give some­one a mas­sive spray but we know as a side how things should be done.”

And how they shouldn’t be, which brings us to the near­est he came to a Fergie, af­ter the shocker they came up with against South Africa in Not­ting­ham, af­ter which Root’s men­tor and former Eng­land skip­per Michael Vaughan ques­tioned whether he and his bats­men had shown Test cricket suf­fi­cient re­spect.

Stung by that, Root spelled out to his play­ers that:“It wasn’t a good enough per­for­mance. It didn’t re­flect fairly on the abil­ity in that dress­ing room and it was very im­por­tant we pro­duce a re­ally strong re­sponse from such a bad de­feat.

“Ev­ery­one worked re­ally hard in the lead-up to the next game, then pro­duced a fan­tas­tic ef­fort at the Oval. This (fol­low­ing the vic­tory in the first Test against West Indies by a mil­lion miles) is a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge, com­ing out of a strong win but that men­tal­ity needs to be the same and the more we can cre­ate that in train­ing and around the team, the more that should hap­pen nat­u­rally.” Did he mean in­ten­sity? “Maybe slightly in­ten­sity, but I think just hav­ing that men­tal­ity of be­ing ruth­less and at no point eas­ing off the gas.

“When we get into a po­si­tion of strength or when we feel like we’re on top, we have to keep driv­ing that for­ward.”

Or, to put it another way, be Roothless.

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

Im­pres­sive per­for­mances: But Toby Roland-Jones has been dropped by Eng­land in favour of Chris Woakes

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