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Chef leaves the kitchen, Root gets cooking

Chef leaves the kitchen, Root gets cooking

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image courtesty of Jumpy News on flickr

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.

image courtesy of Jumpy News on flickr

image courtesy of Jumpy News on flickr

What might Root’s England look like?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Joe Root: Should move down to his preferred position at 4, which will give him some breathing space – expect massive runs from him.
  5. 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.
  6. Ben Stokes: England’s talisman. Batting has matured and will want his slightly expensive bowling to become more efficient now too.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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,
  10. 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.
  11. 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.

Business as usual for Cook’s England

Cricket! And what’s in store for Captain Cook’s men? The opportunity to reach hero status once more, just as the tribe did under Strauss’ direction when they retained the Ashes in Australia in 2010/11.

Albeit overshadowed slightly by stories of transfer deadlines, wage battles and poor refereeing in the mainstream sports news agenda, a national passion for cricket is undoubtedly still present and this will continue to build further as we edge closer to the Ashes Tour. Hats off also to the ever-faithful Barmy Army, currently serving time in New Zealand, whose trumpeting tones are a refreshing reminder that the gentleman’s game still attracts an impressive level of support, while never taking itself too seriously.

As a lifelong cricket fan myself, I am always pleased to speak to others who follow the sport all year round and not just as an excuse for an all-inclusive trip to Australia or a session of Aussie-bashing. Having said that, when Clarke brings his men here this summer, I will not shy away from joining in, regardless of my girlfriend’s nationality. “Can I wear my Australia shirt to Lords? No”.

This summer, I predict business as usual for England. Thankfully, recent English success against Australia means I can say this with a sizeable degree of certainty. While I’m sure each test will be as hard-fought as always, with ‘Mitchell Johnson’ chants ringing around every ground that he visits, I cannot help but predict an England victory before many have even looked further than the current series in NZ. As much as I would love to go on about the multitude of strengths of each player in the England squad, the main reason for my placing us as firm favourites this summer is not so much due to our fantastic bowling attack and ever-improving top seven, but more so due to the lack of form and poor discipline from our opponents; the latter of which has been well-documented over the last few weeks. So here I will give my reasons as to why Australia will not win the Ashes, as opposed to why England will.

First and foremost, Australia have just been beaten 3-0 by India; a side which England beat 2-1 earlier in the cricket calendar. I am aware that this was England’s first series win in India since 1984 but the manner in which we won – and the fact that James Anderson’s nine dismissals of once-God Sachin Tendulkar edged the 39 year old closer to retirement – were extremely impressive.

Australia’s performance during their tour of India suggests that their problem is not so much batting, although their opening pair in the form of Cowan and Warner is anything but orthodox. Rather, their bowling attack is a major cause for concern. Yes, Siddle is top class; an old-fashioned, aggressive fast bowler, although a questionable character, but Mitchell Johnson? He has never really put forward a solid reason as to why he continues to be picked. I’ve never seen a bowler capitulate, take a wicket with a full toss, and further capitulate quite to the standard of Johnson. Now he’s been sent home for not doing his homework, so I’m not sure where that leaves him; probably tied up in detention.

At one point I viewed Mitchell Starc as a hot prospect, as is often the case when a young new player enters the fray. But watching him go for 50 off 10 for no return in the final innings of the last test was a ‘starc’ reminder of the problems Australia face in the bowling department.

Lyon and Doherty: spinners who don’t. I position Matt Prior as on a par with Mahendra Singh Dhoni as a wicket-keeper batsman. I also like to think that Prior will take apart the Australian spinners to a similar extent, as will KP…if his love of the big-stage still remains.

Watson, although not the most popular guy amongst opposition (and also known for slacking on the homework front), is a batsman with talent that no-one can knock. With natural ability and an aesthetically pleasing cover drive, he, along with Clarke, will be under pressure to score ‘big hundreds’ so that the bowling mediocrity has some sort of insurance.

I thought Clarke spoke exceptionally well with regard to the recent ill-discipline of four of his team. He is Cricket Australia’s saving grace; a great man and a great cricketer. If the Australian side have anything to celebrate at the moment, it’s Captain Clarke. Let’s hope he’s around for a while longer.

People will point out the inexperience in the Australian team and throw around clichés like ‘building for the future’ and ‘promising young players’. Yes, they are inexperienced, but with the first Ashes test under four months away, experience will not be gained between now and then. I must also point out that I don’t think the younger players are particularly promising.

Under Alistair Cook, English cricket is becoming the pride of the country, which makes a nice change.

My prediction for this summer…..England to win the series 3-0 and the weather taking the obligatory 2 matches.

 

Word by Ben Cossor.