JOESHOWS JUSTHOW ROOTHLESS HECANBE (ASKTOBY!)
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.
Impressive performances: But Toby Roland-Jones has been dropped by England in favour of Chris Woakes