England weakness is at root of Joe’s issues as leader
England cricket captains historically tend to find their batting going into reverse at some point because of the weight of the job. With Joe Root, the opposite is happening.
Root is enjoying his best year with the bat since he took over as skipper in 2017, averaging more than 60, while at the same time his captaincy is creaking.
The mental mist that engulfed him in the field in the defeat by India at Lord’s pointed to a player with too much on his plate. When England needed clarity and calm from their captain it deserted him.
He was honest enough to admit to mistakes in the wake of the failed plan to bully the Bumrah-Shami partnership into submission and promised to learn from the experience.
But after 54 Tests as England captain, Root should not be learning on the job.
It wasn’t an experience issue in the second Test, more a bandwidth one. Root used up all his in holding together a batting line-up with the tensile strength of a bag of crisps.
The hope is this is only a temporary glitch, that a week off before Headingley will allow him to regather his faculties and be the assured captain a vulnerable England need. But he is at the crease so quickly and for such a high proportion of England’s innings that he has little or no down time in a match. No wonder he is making mistakes.
Relieving the burden by returning to the ranks mid-series isn’t an option.
Who would lead the side? Jos Buttler is the official vice-captain but still gives off the air of a white-ball player on work experience in the red-ball game.
Jimmy Anderson is Root’s senior pro but for all his skills with the ball has never been viewed as a captaincy candidate. Moeen Ali has led England – in T20 – but is only taking baby steps back into Test cricket.
Rory Burns may be seen as the man most likely, as captain of Surrey, but is averaging just 15 in this series and has all his focus on keeping his place.
Maybe England should apply the Mike Brearley theory and go left field by whistling up the captain of the county champions. Step forward Tom Westley from Essex. Well it worked in 1981.
The fact is that there is no one else.What Root could do with is some wise counsel beside him but the back-up isn’t there with Ben Stokes, Root’s vice-captain at the start of the summer, and Stuart Broad, the other influential voice in the dressing room, both out of the series.
He appears to be receiving little in the way of help from coach Chris Silverwood, who seemed to be as drawn into the combat with the Indian pace bowlers as gullibly as Root at Lord’s.
Root has no Stokes, Broad or Jofra Archer – and no functional top order either – so those he does have need to play smartly.
If Root’s tactical rudder remains unreliable, England could veer off into some very choppy waters.
With three Tests to go, the India series could get messy.