Root shoulders the demands of the England captaincy

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Root hopes Stoneman, Crane can take their chances

There’s a scene in the film, The Hunger, where the character played by David Bowie ages several decades in a few minutes.

It would be an exaggeration to suggest Joe Root must know exactly how Bowie’s character felt – his downfall was related to a vampire lifestyle, after all, and they frown on that sort of thing in Yorkshire – but you get the picture. The demands of captaining the England Test side are substantial and there have been times during the summer when they have shown on Root’s face and in his demeanour.

Defeat at Trent Bridge appeared to hit especially hard. “Why’s Joe Root’s granddad taking a press conference?” one journalist whispered as a man who looked a bit like Root shuffled in and tried to explain the loss. Let nobody doubt how much he cares.

He looks much brighter today. Rejuvenated by some time off with his family and the series victory over South Africa he is back in Sheffield and, in between thrashing paint-covered cricket balls on to canvas to advertise life insurance – no, I didn’t get it, either – he is reflecting on his first few weeks in the job and looking ahead to England’s first day-night Test and the Ashes.

He admits the demands of captaincy have surprised him a little. Not so much the on-field aspects – at which he has excelled – but the off-field requirements.

Today is a good example. He is obliged to give a series of interviews which probe his views on a variety of subjects. He’s asked about his thoughts on top-order batting (it’s hard), playing Oasis songs on the guitar (it’s easy), being rested from the limited-overs matches against West Indies (it’s possible), religion (he’s in favour), Sheffield United (he likes them), his method of transporting a guitar on flights (he listens with rapt attention as a journalist tells him the secret is not to use a case) and day-night cricket (it’s worth a try but the fielding side had better strike with that new ball because it goes soft fast).

Then he’s asked to do it all again in front of different cameras. Then he does it wearing a different coloured shirt. It is relentless and it is exhausting.

“Maybe I was slightly naïve to the time and energy that would go into captaincy,” Root admits now. “I knew there would be a lot more demand upon my time and energy. And I quite enjoy the different responsibilities that come with it.

“But I suppose there is slightly more than I expected. I’ve never been a great sleeper and I do find myself thinking about cricket even more than before.

“When it comes to batting it’s been fine. I generally don’t think too much other than about watching the ball and playing the situation. In practice it’s about making sure I get all the preparation I need to be ready to score runs.


Joe Root fulfils another sponsorship obligation © Getty Images

“Coming off the field and having a young family it’s very easy to distract yourself. It’s such a nice thing to be able to go back to. You just don’t think about cricket when you’re back there. It’s the times when you’re on your own and you don’t have that where it’s slightly trickier.”

No period was more tricky than the aftermath of that Trent Bridge defeat. While South Africa played beautifully in Nottingham, Root was hugely disappointed by the naïve manner his side responded to the challenge of the moving ball and a fine attack. In the first major test of his leadership, he made it clear that better, tougher cricket was expected from his team. The way they responded bodes well for him.

“It was important we sat down after that game and were honest about where we were as a team,” Root says. “It wasn’t a good enough performance by everyone involved and we needed to make sure we adapted better and quicker to the situation. We did that excellently in the next two games.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be a man for Churchillian speeches or making everyone emotional through my words, but I feel like I can hold my own in terms of getting my message across in the group.”

He knows, too, that one of the most significant test looms just ahead. Whether it’s right or wrong, England players – and captains, in particular – are still judged disproportionately by their success in Ashes series.

Root admits he was shocked by the hostility of the Australian crowds in the 2013-14 series. Despite having spent a season playing Grade cricket for Prospect CC in Adelaide (“I enjoyed it, but I’d have loved to score more runs”) and expecting some “banter” on the field, he found it extended off the pitch.

While he feels it’s crucial to see the humour in such exchanges, he also believes it is important to warn new players as to what to expect. One particular chant, which rhymed “Trott” with “vagina rot” was especially memorable.

“I was slightly surprised,” he says. “I thought they might give us a bit of banter but it was a bit more than that.

“A lot of the side that went in 2013-14 was similar to the one which won there in 2010-11. They all said it was an amazing tour and they had a great time. It was tough cricket but brilliant.

“My experience was different. It was very hostile. It was aggressive on and off the field. Especially off the field, in fact. The crowd give you a hard time and the guys are fully aware that’s the case.

“At Brisbane a beach ball came on the field and they wanted me to throw it back. Someone said something a bit rude so I chucked it to the steward, who popped it. For the rest of that day they carried on about it. There were some not very nice words. It wasn’t very family friendly.

“There was a few chants from the crowd that were quite personal at times. Quite offensive. The thing to remember, even if it doesn’t seem it at the time, is it’s generally in good spirit and they’re just trying to create an atmosphere for their side.

“But if you respond well to it you have the opportunity to win them over. So I think it’s important to warn players over what to expect. You don’t want to go out there and it just hit you like a train. You want to make sure you’re fully aware of what’s coming your way.

“I think that’s probably what made it so enjoyable for the guys who went there and won. You do get a hard time but when you win it’s that bit more enjoyable. Our challenge is to experience that, not let it faze us and hopefully come back with that little urn.”

Joe Root is an Ambassador for health and life insurer Vitality, inspiring healthy and active lifestyles

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo