Alastair Cook was a very British captain. Solid, dependable, conservative, if perhaps a little uninspiring. A steady hand rather than a dashing innovator.
Joe Root’s ascendancy to the England captaincy will show him to be a very different man. Root can certainly play the court jester, and his reputation for a cheeky sense of humour is best encapsulated by the way he howled with laughter when Cook was struck in the unmentionables in an Ashes test.
But Root is far more than a mere joker, and any judgements of his character should be placed in the context of an individual of fiercely competitive disposition. No professional sportsman likes losing, but there is a definite nasty edge to Root that the dignified Cook, for all of his drive, never really had.
Time for the new daddy to score some daddy hundreds
For Root’s personal performance, the added responsibility of the captaincy could be just the tonic he needs to take his batting to the next level. The other great batsmen of his generation are already leading their countries.
Kane Williamson, Steve Smith and Virat Kohli have all elevated their games since captaining their countries. For all his brilliance, a tendency has crept into Root’s game of making stylish 50’s, but failing to convert them into match-defining hundreds. Captaincy could give him the focus to start delivering more innings that win test matches.
The Captain’s Lieutenants
Root will have the opportunity to mould this team in his own image. Whereas Cook inherited a side of established stars, this England XI is younger, rawer but with the potential to be as enterprising a test side as any around.
The real core of the team is Root, Stokes, Bairstow and Broad. Broad is just as fiery a character as the floppy-haired, lanky bowler who first burst onto the scene, while Bairstow is the perfect mouthy Yorkshireman to have behind the stumps – and has found a formula that is yielding score after score.
Ben Stokes though, is the talisman around who the team is built, and will make an intriguing choice as vice-captain. His talent is only matched by his temper, but as cricket moves into a more explosive age – Stokes and Root could make for a dynamic, if risky, combination.
What might Root’s England look like?
- Alastair Cook: The hope is that Cook’s resignation will see him return to the form that made him the best opener in test cricket. At his best, Cook is an insatiable run-machine, and they desperately need him to give a platform to an inexperienced batting line-up.
- Haseeb Hameed: Just 20 years old, but all the technique and mental characteristics that England have been looking for in an opener since Andrew Strauss retired. Also means England have a right-hand, left-hand combination at the top of the order, which is nice.
- Keaton Jennings: Stylish left-hander probably did enough in India to earn himself a run at 3. Has all the shots, needs to show consistency.
- Joe Root: Should move down to his preferred position at 4, which will give him some breathing space – expect massive runs from him.
- Moeen Ali: Pivotal summer for Moeen now, by the end of the India tour he was clearly secondary spinner to Adil Rashid. Has heaps of ability and is glorious to watch, this is his chance to make 5 his position.
- Ben Stokes: England’s talisman. Batting has matured and will want his slightly expensive bowling to become more efficient now too.
- Jonny Bairstow: Improving with the gloves but remains prone to the odd mistake. More than made up for by his sensational batting. Gives England invaluable depth.
- Chris Woakes: Has put an end to all questions over his suitability for test cricket. An industrious bowler who can swing the ball and a serious batsman.
- Adil Rashid: Did enough in India to earn a place in the side. Impressive at cleaning up the tail-end and with the depth of batting and seam-bowling, England can afford to take a chance on him. Could miss out with Jos Buttler preferred as an extra batsman,
- Stuart Broad: Has led England’s attack in the absence of Anderson and will be a crucial tactical mind for Root in guiding the other bowlers.
- Jimmy Anderson: England’s greatest ever wicket-taker is still an automatic pick. Though will have to be managed carefully to avoid injury. Jake Ball is waiting in the wings as his likely replacement given the inconsistency of Steven Finn and fitness struggles of Mark Wood.
The timing of the change feels right and Root feels like the right man. It’s hard to escape the feeling that this could be the dawn of an exciting era for English cricket.