Written by: Prithvi (Puneite_)
It’s Feb 2021, Bumrah is caught behind off Archer’s delivery, and England win the first test to go 1-0 up in the series. What was so special about this victory? Joe Root’s team now had their 6th consecutive win in Asia and their 6th consecutive win abroad (3 in South Africa, 2 in Sri Lanka and 1 in India). Moreover, Joe Root had equalled Michael Vaughan’s record for the most Test wins by an English captain (26). Incidentally, it was also Joe Root’s 100th Test and he had scored a memorable 218. It was preceded by scores of 200 and 185 in Sri Lanka. They looked like a side without a chink in their armour, they had no one to stop them. The future looked bright. Dom Sibley & Ollie Pope had scored tons in South Africa, Zak Crawley had registered a 267 against Pakistan, Rory Burns had established himself as an opener with valuable knocks in the Ashes and in New Zealand, Anderson was becoming more and more lethal with age, Jack Leach and Dom Bess were bowling out sides. It was unthinkable that things would turn around so drastically after Chepauk, that England will win only one Test in their next 17 matches and their world would be turned upside down.
Joe Root took the reigns in 2017. Having made his debut in 2012, Root by then had scored 4594 runs at an average of 52.9 with 11 Tests centuries. He was the natural successor to Alastair Cook being the best batter in the side by a mile and only 2nd to Steve Smith in that period. Root’s stint started with a bang with a 190 on debut and won the test series against South Africa and West Indies at home. However, the biggest challenge ahead of him was the Ashes. England, like every year, looked toothless and were handed a 4-0 loss followed by a 1-0 loss in NZ. Root scored 5 half-centuries but failed to register a big score. 2018 summer started with a 1-1 draw against Pakistan and questions were slowly started circling regarding his leadership. England beat India later in the home season which was one of the most competitive series, far from what the score-line suggests. At the end of the year, England toured Sri Lanka and whitewashed them 3-0. This also marked the downfall of Joe Root the Test batter. From New Zealand 2018 series till the end of 2020 home summer, Root played 32 Tests and averaged 37.8, far low from his career average. He scored 4 centuries out of which 3 came in dead rubbers when the series was already done. 226 in New Zealand was the only saving grace. A series loss in West Indies, a draw in the Ashes at home, and a series win in South Africa led to a mixed bag of results for the English side in 2019.
2021 was the year of Joe Root. He scored over 1700 runs and won the ICC test cricketer of the year. It is one of the greatest individual performance in a calendar year. Next highest scorer in the side was Rory Burns with 550 odd runs and was the lone centurion in the side. It is unfortunate that Root’s purple parch with the bat coincided with one of the worst years in England’s Test cricket history. Since that win in Chepauk, Root’s men lost 3 consecutive Tests in India, a series loss to New Zealand at home, they are trailing by 2-1 against India, a 4-0 ashes loss and 1-0 loss in the Caribbean. The Ashes loss was the saturating point. England’s head coach, batting and bowling coach, ECB’s managing director, their Chairman, everyone resigned and it was common knowledge that Root’s days as England’s captain were numbered and a series loss in West Indies put a final stamp on his exit. They say a captain is good as his team but there are numerous instances in the recent past where Root’s tactics were highly questionable. England were on the verge of victory in Lord’s test against India when they resorted to a strange tactic to bowl short at the Indian tailenders and as a result lost the Test in the process of avenging Anderson’s humiliation in the 1st innings. Root is also found guilty of over-bowling his bowlers. Jofra Archer bowled 74 overs across 2 Tests in New Zealand, a series that was not even a part of the WTC. It is also rumoured that he was on the lines of ECB on the dropping of Broad & Anderson from the team.
Root’s numbers did take a dip as a captain but overall he is 5th on the list of most runs as a captain with 5295 runs at an average of 46.44. With current form and age on his side it won’t be a surprise if he reaches new heights as a batsman. Currently, he is on the brink of 10,000 test runs and should easily enter top 5 runs getters list. England are lying at the bottom of the WTC points table and have no chance to qualify for the finals. They have an important home summer coming up with NZ, SA and India. They are expected to travel to Pakistan later in the year. Except for Ben Stokes, no one is a permanent name in the XI and he is the best choice for the job. But Stokes has had issues with injuries, mental health and other off field things in the past. The other choice is Stuart Broad who has fell out of the favour of ECB. Broad will turn 36 this year and is not an ideal choice if ECB are looking at a long term solution. Also, he won’t walk into the XI outside England in most conditions. What goes in favour of Broad, is the experience of close to 150 Tests and has a point to prove after getting left out of the team. For a short term period, Broad is a very good pick. The recent example of Pat Cummins has shown the cricketing world that even fast bowlers can make a good captain.
Root will go down as England’s one of the most successful skippers. Though his win percentage may suggest otherwise but history will be kind to him. No captain led England in more Tests, no captain won more Tests, no captain scored more runs, centuries and whole lot of other things. It would be interesting to see who is England’s next coach and what changes do they make in their domestic set up. Are there any chances for the test team to reverse the situation from their very first series against NZ as the white ball team did in 2015?