Joe Root admits he is searching for his role in England’s aggressive Test side
Joe Root has scored more Test runs than any other batter currently playing the game, but the former England captain admits he has yet to nail down his identity in Ben Stokes’ revolutionary regime.
Root’s tally of 10,700 runs places him 12th on the game’s all-time list and top among those who are still active, with 28 centuries and an average of 49.30 underlining his world-class credentials.
Throughout his own five-year tenure, the side’s fortunes frequently lived and died on his performances, but things have changed since he passed on the baton.
England’s 267-run win over New Zealand in Mount Maunganui was their 10th win in 11 games since Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum took charge last summer, with the whole team buying in to a relentlessly aggressive blueprint with bat and ball.
Root was outstanding in the early stages of that run, tucking in with three hundreds and an unbeaten 86 in Stokes’ first four matches, but has added just a couple of half-centuries in the past seven Tests.
While there is no concern whatsoever about his form within the camp – he averages a shade under 50 since the handover – Root has begun to examine how he slots into the new landscape.
“I think I’ve just got to find out what sits best for me and that’s going to take some time,” he said.
“If I’m being brutally honest there was the initial relief of coming out of the captaincy and now I’m just trying to find out what my role is within this team.
I've maybe got a bit caught up in it. I've not performed for a little while but it's given me a little sharpener, a kick up the backside
“It sounds silly with the experience I have but you want to be involved and be part of it. You want to heavily contribute and I feel like I’ve not been able to do that the last few Test matches.
“With the rhythms of the game, I’ve maybe got a bit caught up in it. I’ve not performed for a little while but it’s given me a little sharpener, a kick up the backside, that this is how I need to play my cricket, how I can be consistently useful in this group.”
That could be seen as a nod that Root regretted the manner of his first-innings dismissal at the Bay Oval, caught at slip attempting to deploy a reverse ramp over the cordon. But that was the first time he has come unstuck since he began experimenting with the stroke and he would rather refine it than eliminate it from his repertoire.
“You take calculated risks. I’ve got where I’ve got to by trusting my gut. It just didn’t quite work out,” he said.
“It’s not going to stop me playing it, maybe just be smarter about playing it. It’s now part of my Test game and I’ll continue to utilise it when it’s the right time.”
Despite the sharp difference in their styles, Stokes was a loyal vice-captain to Root and the bond of trust and admiration flows both ways.
“I didn’t expect this, but I’m glad it’s happened, it’s been incredible. I’m absolutely buzzing for him and what he’s doing,” Root added.
“It’s not just turned our Test team and our fortunes around but I think people are now seriously considering ‘is this the direction Test cricket should be going in?’.”
And while Root wrestles with how best to lean into that direction, his fellow Yorkshireman Harry Brook is flourishing in the freedom.
After five Test appearances, three centuries and an average of 77.87, he is already being tipped for future greatness. Experienced heads like Stokes and Stuart Broad have already lavished him with praise on this trip and Root was more than happy to join the chorus for his county colleague.
“He’s special, really special,” said Root.
“I’ve seen him go from a little boy to a man and now he’s almost bullying Test attacks. It’s extraordinary. I’m just so glad he’s walked in and done as well as he has because I’ve seen him for a long time and know what he’s capable of.”
Indeed, the only down side Root can think of is Brook’s constant reminders of an early meeting between the pair.
“He was 14 when he came in as a net bowler at Headingley and got me out,” he recalled.
“He was bowling filthy seamers off the wrong foot but he continually talks about it, it’s so annoying.”