Is the burden of captaincy starting to tell on Joe Root’s batting? This is precisely the question that’s crossing many minds at the minute. And one fears that the longer his willow stays quiet the more will be the buzz around his form.
While England racked up impressive Test wins under his stewardship, it couldn’t mask Root’s modest returns with the bat. With the English top order shaky at best, the skipper’s indifferent form has put undue pressure on the batsmen following in the middle and lower middle order.
While his talent and skills are indubitable, Root’s conversion rate has been far from satisfactory in the recent past.
In 2018, Root scored eight fifties and two centuries, which works out to a modest conversion rate of 25%. He has 17 tons and 49 half-centuries in 94 Tests, a record which shows his inability to convert starts and good fifties into daddy hundreds.
In the last Ashes series, the England skipper tallied 304, with four fifties, fairly humble returns by his standards.
Even in the recent home Test series against the West Indies, Joe Root scored 130 runs, with a lone fifty to his credit.
Though he missed the first Test at Southampton to be by his wife for the birth of their second child, he returned to lead England in the second and third at the Emirates Old Trafford.
Root under pressure
His persistent indifferent form even got pundits talking. Reflecting on Joe Root’s poor returns with the willow in the last Ashes series, which England lost, in a column for Daily Mail, former England captain Nasser Hussain wrote, “Root is under pressure now. Yes, we would also like him to be in charge in Australia (in 2021) but we are not playing well away from home and Root’s form, tactics and body language are all concerns. He must improve if he’s to reach that goal – with no guarantees.”
Raising questions on England’s away form in Tests under Root, Hussain said that while scores of around 300 or 350 can win you games at home, especially with an ideal set of bowlers on surfaces where the ball seams around, they aren’t nearly enough to challenge top teams away.
“The batting doesn’t get enough big scores – 350 in the first innings can win you a Test at home. The bowling remains one-paced and one-dimensional. And when the captain is given extra pace through Jofra Archer, he’s not comfortable about when and how to use it,”Hussain wrote.
And Hussain’s fears aren’t unfounded when it comes to England’s recent Test record away. While there are question marks around his body language, many fear that his persistent poor form with the bat may well be affecting his decisions on the field as a leader.
Stats don’t lie. Between 2017 and 2019, England have lost three Test series away. However, what got tongues wagging was Joe Root’s failure to impose himself on the Aussies with the bat in the last Ashes series. His tactics on the field, too, left the critics unimpressed.
While the series win over the Windies may have papered over England’s frailties in the batting department, the ongoing encounter with Pakistan has yet again bared the flaws in the top and middle order. Barring Ben Stokes, none of their other Test batters have shown enough consistency with the willow in recent games.
At three down for twenty one in their first innings of the ongoing Test at the Emirates Old Trafford, Root was expected to pilot a ship, rocked early, through to the close of play. However, after numerous plays and misses, the skipper edged one to keeper Mohammad Rizwan off the bowling of Yasir Shah.
One suspects that Joe Root, on current form, wouldn’t have got such a long run with the willow if he wasn’t the captain. Former skipper Michael Vaughan has said that Root won’t figure among his ‘Fab Four’ batters on current form.
Now whether it’s the burden of captaincy or daddy duties, Root clearly needs to regather his focus and find his best form with the willow if he is to silence his detractors.