Root roadmap may become a rarity in fractured future
that seems to throb with its own intelligence – wrists, grip, wood, angles and impact all Bluetoothed directly into his brain.
He’s great, then. But the drawing is still the wrong Root story. If the England and Wales Cricket Board was really up on this it could perhaps have it expunged by one of those reputation management companies and replaced with a more flattering Root story, one that’s not about destiny foreseen or iron-willed certainties but about the doubt and difficulty that must also have been there.
The fact is, aged 15, Root was already a regular at Loughborough, already on the International Pathway, the best player, best batsman, best fielder at that famous 2006 England schools festival of all the future talents. The same year he did his drawing he was also putting peri-peri sauce in 15-year-old Ben Stokes’s Coke during the Bunbury outing to Nando’s.
Against this backdrop the drawing looks less like a romantic dream, more like a really well-executed visualisation technique. You half expect to learn it was sketched out on an ECB notepad, or on the back of a letter from the high performance pathway saying, Rooty, we’ve run the figures and can today confirm you will be a world-class batsman.
At the end of which Root stands alone, not just a great player but as the definitive expression of an elite modern English cricketer, processed through the most aggressively resourced machine in cricket’s history. He is the ECB’s vital asset, No3 on The Cricketer magazine’s new Power List, in between the chairman and CEO, the ultimate insider.
All of which brings us on naturally to Mark Stoneman, who might end up batting No3 in front of Root in the Ashes, who remains the most astringent point of contrast in this England team, and who scored a wonderful hundred against Yorkshire this week. Stoneman played really well at The Oval, cantering to 50 off 58 balls in watery sunshine, and confirming what his new admirers say at Surrey, that when he plays with a little freedom he really does hit the ball beautifully. The hundred came up with a short-arm clip through the covers. Stoneman finally exited in midafternoon not with strut or a swagger but with a Surrey Trudge, like a man wandering off to change a fuse or re-oil the patio decking.
And now here he is, aged 30, next to Joe on an Ashes trip and perhaps a better indication in his own way of the future. The ECB model of the past two decades has been based on a certainty that international cricket will always be the chief asset, the only end of the Pathway. Yet there is plenty of evidence that this is no longer the case, that a fracturing of international cricket into leagues, franchises, T20 riches is firmly under way.
Root has been 14 years in the making, a glorious success story of talent identified and realised. At the end of which he earned about the same from playing cricket this year as Tymal Mills, who entered from left-field and who is more or less a self-made entity. How sustainable is this great multi-layered centralised model? Perhaps in time it is the age of Root that will be the exception, a generation of rare, managed certainties; while a more variegated future brings more Stonemans, more Mills, more of those with a less guided path, different drawings, a journey without maps.