Joe Root, the face of new England: Ian Chappell
Root is not a gung-ho strokemaker like Ben Stokes or Jos Buttler or even Moeen Ali but there’s never any doubt about his intent when on strike, writes Ian Chappell
There are still skeptics among the ‘flat earth mob’ but there’s no doubt climate change has hit English cricket.
England’s rapid progression from a timid, attritional team to an aggressively fearless batting line-up, backed by a skilled attack bowling with discipline, has been a revelation.
Two months ago, England, purely on the basis of being a participant, had a ten per cent chance of winning back the Ashes; on their early showing in the series, they’re (at worst) a 50-50 bet.
The question is whether they can retain their entertaining but practical approach through the tough periods as well as when they’re on top.
If they can hold their nerve, it’s a style that affords England their best chance of wresting back the Ashes.
England’s Joe Root kisses the badge on his helmet as he celebrates his century during Day One of the first Ashes Test in Cardiff on Wednesday. Australia’s wicketkeeper Brad Haddin (right) and Shane Watson applaud. PIC/PTI
Joe Root is the symbol of the new England. He’s not a gung-ho strokemaker like Ben Stokes or Jos Buttler or even Moeen Ali but there’s never any doubt about his intent when on strike; he’s looking to score at every opportunity. It’s an intent that marks the difference between the average batsman and the best international players.
Just as importantly, he’s displayed this approach when the team is in trouble. He did it against New Zealand and repeated the dose against Australia at Cardiff. This prompts the question, whether like his young Australian counterpart Steve Smith, he should agitate for a rise in the batting order.
Smith has bucked a modern trend to languish in the middle-order as cover for early setbacks, by adopting the cricketing equivalent of the Welsh rugby adage, “get your retaliation in first.”
In addition to being a potential England captain, Root has the ingredients to be a successful No 3 batsman. He’s technically efficient, plays both pace and spin well and can mount a counter-attack. This makes him a better option than the incumbent Gary Ballance, a dogged but stodgy wicket-preserver, who is easily bogged down.
If England want further improvement they should swap these two in the batting order. Ballance’s regular periods of inactivity against both pace and spin will bog England down and frustrate the stroke makers at the other end. He needs to devise a method of scoring singles more regularly so he doesn’t keep the faster scorers on edge while waiting to face a delivery.
Also, his method against Mitchell Johnson’s short deliveries - a prod and a prayer - are a confidence booster for a bowler who has struggled in English conditions but whose success is closely allied to Australia’s fortunes. England dented Johnson’s confidence in the first innings at Cardiff; they shouldn’t then act as benevolent panel beaters.
The sudden rise to stardom of players like Root and Smith is a reminder of how the game keeps regenerating. Like Virat Kohli for India, the maturity of skillful young players may not cause fans to forget a retired superstar but it gives them reason for continued interest in the game.
Just as the game regenerates through its players it also evolves as a spectacle. Two months ago no one could’ve predicted a drastic change of philosophy by England; now no one can doubt they’re a legitimate challenger for the urn.
The tour began with Australia supposedly possessing a more penetrative attack. After the early going it’s evident Australia has the faster attack but they also tend to be profligate. If they’re not taking wickets regularly, the two Mitchells dilute Michael Clarke’s captaincy advantage because they make it difficult for him to attack as he’d wish.
Then there’s the possible domino effect of Ryan Harris’ departure. Compounded by Starc’s injury, it probably means an opportunity for Peter Siddle who could offer Clarke more control. The domino effect is often precipitous among older teams and Australia will be concerned that Harris’s injury sets off the toppling.
On the other hand, England’s disciplined bowling enabled Cook to face down a considerable demon; the inability to erase the pesky lower half of Australia’s batting order cheaply. Cardiff was a big improvement on England’s last Ashes series and the bowling perfectly complemented Root’s substantial contribution