Root set to join fantastic four
WHENEVER Joe Root takes over the England Test captaincy he will draw another parallel with the three other batsmen whom he has seemingly been destined to track throughout his impressive career – Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson.
All three currently lead India, Australia and New Zealand respectively.
With Root, they are the outstanding batsmen of their generation and look destined to dominate across all formats for years to come.
Root, at 25, is the youngest of the four, Kohli the oldest at 28. But all four were born within 25 months of each other.
Kohli, Smith and Williamson have seen a jump, too, in their performances in Test cricket since being handed the captaincy.
Could Root, who made his debut in the final Test of England’s last series in India at Nagpur four years ago, repeat that success from his already rarefied level of performance?
Alastair Cook, England’s Test captain who stated this week his deputy is “ready” for the job, says: “You just never know. I think a lot of players have a bit of a spurt when they first take over the captaincy and it levels out after a couple of years when you probably find your genuine level.
“I was asked a very direct question a couple of days ago about it. But the moment he got off the plane in India in 2012 as a very young-looking Joe Root you knew he was ready for international cricket. Every challenge that’s been thrown at him he’s handled. So I don’t think anything over the next few years will faze him.
“Joe’s record is fantastic, he’s a fantastic player and we’re lucky he’s English and part of this side.”
Kohli, asked the same question, said: “It depends on the individual to be honest. Joe is an outstanding player, I have been very fond of his game and the way he plays.
“He is very positive. He always thinks of any situation as an opportunity. I don’t know what captaincy will do to that. Captaincy is not just about the ten guys on the field or having a squad and interacting with the management. It comes with a whole package of interacting with the media, having people expect
things out of you in a different way, having the onus of the country on your shoulders.
“Joe looks like he has the temperament to do it but you can only tell when he actually gets into the scheme of things how he will react. Only he can answer that question. But from what I have seen in how he conducts himself on the field, he has been a great batsman for England and I think he is equipped enough to handle that job as well.”
A year ago, Kohli could not be grouped alongside Root, Smith and Williamson in Test cricketing terms as his record was just not comparable.
However, a stellar 2016, in which he has scored three double hundreds and averages 80, has most definitely put him on his three rivals’ level.
Kohli is now second in the ICC rankings behind Smith, with Root and Williamson third and fourth respectively.
Kohli’s 235 in the fourth Test in Mumbai took his career average past 50 for the first time. At 50.53, it is behind Smith (58.94) and Root (52.94) but fractionally ahead of Williamson (49.44).
In terms of Test hundreds Root, on 11, trails Smith (16), Kohli (15) and Williamson (14). The Yorkshireman’s knack of failing to convert half-centuries – he has 26 in Tests – has hurt him in that respect.
For Kohli, though, the ‘rivalry’ is something he is enjoying, if not obsessing about.
“It is a rivalry that is great for the game,” he said. “People like talking about it. It is a great topic of debate.
“You feel good that you are in a bunch of batsmen who are taking world cricket forward and not just having that rivalry between us.
“As an individual I do not focus on these things because it is a massive distraction. When you are going through a good phase you want to look at the rankings and see if you are ahead in the race but you could get so into it when you are not doing well and it can backfire and really put you down as a player.
“To me all these players are world class and I rate each of them higher than me in Test cricket because of the way they have performed in the last twoand-a-half years. I always understand my limitations in the longest format of the game.
“My aim has never been to go above Joe, Steve or Kane. I respect them as opponents and I think there is equal amount of respect among all of us.
“I admire the way all these guys play and I think it is a healthy competition which people talk about and it should go on for a few years.”
It is a healthy competition that Root will be at the heart of over the coming years. And the added responsibility of captaincy, whenever that does come, may see him go up yet another level.
Talents: Kane Williamson and Steve Smith are among the world’s best