Root roadmap may be­come a rar­ity in frac­tured fu­ture

The Guardian - Sport - - Racing - Bar­ney Ronay

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.

bar­ney.ronay@the­guardian.com

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