Cap­tain heads for sleep­less nights over top or­der

In-form Root needs more sup­port to lessen bur­den of ex­pec­ta­tion, writes Scyld Berry at Trent Bridge

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Second Investec Test -

Joe Root has ad­mit­ted that he does not sleep much dur­ing Test matches. Only on the Sun­day night af­ter Lord’s, once Eng­land had won the open­ing Test, did their new Test cap­tain sleep well, so Root him­self said. It is lucky that Tests are no longer time­less, as they some­times were be­fore the Sec­ond World War.

Eng­land’s top-or­der bat­ting is li­able to be the sub­ject which, more than any other, keeps Root awake at night. Root played like a dream in scor­ing 78 off 76 balls – he was well on course for the fastest Test cen­tury by any Eng­land cap­tain – yet his team are on the wrong end of his sec­ond Test in charge, and in im­mi­nent dan­ger of be­ing pegged back by South Africa to 1-1.

Eng­land’s bat­ting, so Root might re­flect, seems to be only a lit­tle more solid than it was last sum­mer when Alex Hales, Nick Comp­ton and James Vince au­di­tioned, with­out any of them be­ing taken on full-time. In this Test, the new cap­tain had to res­cue Eng­land from a start of three for two wick­ets, and it will be no eas­ier when Eng­land have to chase down a tar­get in the fourth in­nings on a pitch ever more un­trust­wor­thy in its bounce, es­pe­cially when Morne Morkel is steam­ing in from the Rad­cliffe Road End.

Should he have se­lected Mark Stone­man for this Test to bat at three? That would have pushed Gary Bal­lance down to No5, where his foot­work is less likely to be ex­posed, with Jonny Bairstow and the rest drop­ping down a place. Stone­man could have played as an ex­tra bats­man in­stead of Liam Daw­son. On the other hand, South Africa’s left-arm spin­ner, Ke­shav Ma­haraj, has had a big im­pact, so Daw­son could yet spin a few in their sec­ond in­nings. Mmmm, is that the time, 1.50am al­ready?

But there are many other tasks to make the head that wears the crown lie uneasy on a pil­low. The De­ci­sion Re­view Sys­tem, or rather Eng­land’s use of it … Alas­tair Cook was bril­liant when de­cid­ing whether to re­view an lbw ver­dict, af­ter giv­ing the ap­pear­ance of lis­ten­ing to the bowler and bas­ing his de­ci­sion on the opin­ion of his wick­et­keeper. Calmly pre­sid­ing: that was when Root’s pre­de­ces­sor was at his best.

The flaw in this process was ev­i­dent, how­ever, when Bairstow was adamant in call­ing for a re­view in South Africa’s first in­nings, fully sup­port­ing the bowler, Stu­art Broad, but the ball was sub­se­quently shown to be head­ing well over the stumps. Per­haps short-leg has to be in­volved as well, if there is one, or else point square of the wicket, to judge the height. Gosh, 3.20 am al­ready, and not a wink of sleep.

What else, away from the cricket? On the sec­ond morn­ing of this game Root tweeted his sup­port of Eng­land Women – “Good luck” to Heather Knight – ahead of their last qual­i­fy­ing game against West Indies, so an­other will be in or­der be­fore their semi-fi­nal. Nei­ther Cook nor An­drew Strauss tweeted, nor Sir Len Hut­ton nor Dou­glas Jar­dine, but so­cial me­dia helps Eng­land’s crick­eters to con­nect with the young.

Be­fore this match Root had to sign more than 300 cricket bats for char­i­ta­ble pur­poses – they were laid out in the squash courts at Trent Bridge – and 100 cricket shirts. So do all the other Eng­land play­ers, but Root also has to carry around the cap­tain’s blazer, to be worn at the toss, in ad­di­tion to the for­mal team suit.

All the me­dia work, too. Cook changed dur­ing his reign, once Trevor Bayliss be­came head coach, and an­nounced his start­ing XI on the eve of the match. Root is do­ing the same be­cause it sug­gests clar­ity of vi­sion and pur­pose – bet­ter than keep­ing the pub­lic and me­dia, as well as the op­po­si­tion, guess­ing.

At least Root’s own game is hold­ing up, in spite of the lack of sleep. He took an ex­cel­lent catch at sec­ond slip, swoop­ing to get his head close to the ball, not stiff and up­right, and an­other that was more reg­u­la­tion in South Africa’s sec­ond in­nings.

Scores of 190, five and 78 so far, off only 323 balls, tak­ing the at­tack to South Africa: an ag­gre­gate of 273, far more than dou­ble Eng­land’s next high­est run-scorer. But Eng­land needed a cen­tury by some­body in their first in­nings to take them ahead of South Africa’s 335.

Is that the light of dawn? Time to open the cur­tains, and face a new day, and the prospect of a very de­mand­ing tar­get set by South Africa, and Eng­land chas­ing it with Bal­lance at three and Bairstow at five. It is just as well that Root thrives on – lives for – chal­lenges.

Un­der pres­sure: Gary Bal­lance could have bat­ted at No 5, tak­ing the heat off his shoul­ders, had Mark Stone­ham been se­lected

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