CAPTAINING YOUR country in an Ashes series is a dream come true for any young cricketer – until it becomes a nightmare which is rapidly happening to England’s rookie leader, writes RON REED
JOE ROOT. It’s a prosaic (definition: lacking poetic beauty) sort of name, even without the inelegant connotations attached to its translation into the Australian vernacular. But its owner, the England cricket captain, has made it more famous than, well, the average Joe. In this sport you don’t see many Joes, average or above average, although it is only a year ago since there were two, Joe Burns and Joe Mennie, playing alongside each other in the Australian Test team, one for the 13th time, the other for the first time and for both, the last time. Can anyone recall a predecessor?
Joseph Edward Root has been the name on everyone’s lips throughout the first two days of the Adelaide Test as his brave and aggressive but fatally flawed decision to bowl after winning the toss has been debated endlessly, mostly in a manner that would have burned his ears red raw. And it dominated previews of day three because if anybody was going to retrieve a fraught situation, it had to be him, the best batsman in the team – and the leader. The boss. You got us into this mess, mate, now get us out of it!
It didn’t take long for his moment of truth to arrive. And not much longer for it to disappear. With James Vince departing nine balls and six minutes after resumption, Root was in with it all to do. He lasted just 10 balls before edging Pat Cummins into the slips for nine, leaving England 3-50, still almost 400 behind, the match unwinnable and almost certainly unsalvageable.
If it is permissible to feel sorry for an English cricketer, especially a captain, during an Ashes series – it certainly doesn’t happen often – then this was that moment. Growing up in Yorkshire, one of the most cricket-crazy regions on earth, the boy Root would have dreamed of captaining his country in an Ashes series. Now here he is living that dream, except that just eight days into a 25-day assignment it is pretty much already a full-blown nightmare. Be careful what you wish for.
The first match has been lost by a heavy margin, the second one is inexorably heading the same way, Root is being ridiculed for his controversial call at the toss, criticised for his field placings and even for his batting order. Worse still, he has managed scores of only 15, 51 and 9, a long way below par for a player who has averaged 53 across his 61 Tests.
Everything he is touching at the moment is turning to, er, ashes. It was always going to be a huge ask for a player who is still only 26 – he turns 27 on the last day of the MCG Test – and who has been captain for only a few months and six previous Tests, all of them in the far friendlier home environment. He is in charge of a team stocked with three inexperienced batsmen, one ageing star run-maker who is well past his best, two gun bowlers who are also struggling to make the impact 900 Test wickets between them would suggest, a spin bowler with an injured spinning finger and his best all-rounder in well-deserved banishment. No wonder he’s having such a hard time holding it altogether.
And then there is the well-documented sledging war that has become such a lurid feature of proceedings. He and his troops are not winning that either. It doesn’t appear to be a natural part of Root’s own personality, so he might be well advised to call a truce – even if it’s a unilateral one – and give himself one less problematical issue to worry about.
RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.