runs-galore-and-record-defeats-–-the-paradox-of-root’s-2021

Runs galore and record defeats – the paradox of Root’s 2021

Joe Root had an unbelievable year with the bat but captained England to nine Test defeats

Joe Root had an unbelievable year with the bat but captained England to nine Test defeats

Joe Root has had quite the year.

In 2021, the Yorkshireman has scored 1,708 Test runs, comfortably the most by an England batter in a calendar year, and behind only Mohammad Yousuf and Sir Viv Richards in the all-time list, with six centuries and an average of 61.

Yet despite him posting those remarkable numbers, England have lost nine of their 15 Test matches – equalling Bangladesh’s record for most defeats in a year – and, after winning the first three, they have won just one of the following 12. All under Root’s leadership.

The ongoing Ashes debacle in Australia, with the series already lost, has led to head coach Chris Silverwood’s position being called into serious question and Root is facing similar scrutiny.

“You know people will be talking about your position, you know every single thing in English cricket will be questioned,” former England skipper Nasser Hussain told the Sky Sports Cricket podcast.

“It always happens after an Ashes series, especially away from home. That’s 12 of the last 13 Tests [in Australia] they’ve lost. We get hammered in Australia, what goes through your head is everything will be questioned, and your position is open for debate.”

That “everything” has included the state of the county system, the quality of English pitches and the coaching players receive both before and after they make it into the international set-up. But another ex-England captain, Michael Atherton, believes head coach and captain must shoulder their share of the blame for the latest Ashes thumping.

Former England spinner Monty Panesar believes Root should continue as the Test captain regardless of results in Australia

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Former England spinner Monty Panesar believes Root should continue as the Test captain regardless of results in Australia

Former England spinner Monty Panesar believes Root should continue as the Test captain regardless of results in Australia

“I actually, in this instance, would focus on the specifics of this tour because I don’t think that those in charge, in this case Chris Silverwood and Joe Root, can escape the responsibility for what has been an error-strewn tour,” he said.

“There have been a lot of mistakes made when it comes to selection and strategy and had things been better on this tour, I think you could have seen a slightly better outcome.

“I don’t think you can just brush it off and say, ‘everything is systemic, the bigger picture is the problem’, I think there has been be an element of personal responsibility for what has gone wrong on this tour because there have been too many errors and bad mistakes made.”

Of course, after nearly five years in the job, there is the chance that Root himself could decide that the time is right for a change and step down after the fifth Test in Hobart.

Sky Sports' Nasser Hussain says some of the decisions made by England head coach Chris Silverwood and Root on the Ashes tour have been shocking

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Sky Sports’ Nasser Hussain says some of the decisions made by England head coach Chris Silverwood and Root on the Ashes tour have been shocking

Sky Sports’ Nasser Hussain says some of the decisions made by England head coach Chris Silverwood and Root on the Ashes tour have been shocking

“You pretty much know when your time as captain is done,” Hussain added.

“I don’t buy into the players looking at you and losing the dressing room – they need to look at themselves really, they haven’t been bowled out for 68 because of Joe Root’s captaincy.

“When I lost the Ashes, I didn’t worry about what the players thought of me as a captain. When I saw the energy in the white-ball series the following summer I knew my tank was empty, I had gone to the well too many times and I was done as an England cricket captain.

“That’s the only decision Joe’s got to make after this series, can he dig deep to lift himself for more series and go again as captain? The decision is with Root, has he run out of mental reserves to take this side forward?”

Meanwhile, Rob Key would be interested to see how Root might fare with a different head coach with an alternative leadership approach that might better compliment his captaincy.

“Does he want to still do it?” he said. “I’d love to see how Joe Root would have got on with a Ricky Ponting, a Stephen Fleming or Mahela Jayawardene, guys who know the game inside out at that level, that’s what I feel he needed [from a coach] – a Gary Kirsten, someone like that.

Gary Kirsten has coached both India and South Africa

Gary Kirsten has coached both India and South Africa

“It’s not always how good a player you’ve been, it’s about what that captain needs.”

What England will be wary of is the impact that losing the captaincy could have on Root’s batting. The last thing they need is to do something that leads to a downturn in form from a man who scored over 1,000 runs more than the next best contributor in 2021.

“Often when captains get to this point, it happened to Alastair Cook, it’s usually your batting that goes,” Key added.

“The weight of captaincy means you can’t keep on going, and scoring runs becomes too much of a chore, becomes too hard. Captaincy has actually brought the best out of Joe Root.”

Indeed, while an overall lack of runs has been the overarching problem for England this year, their premier batter has been in the form of his life.

Root scored six Test centuries with an average of 61 during a superb 2021 with the bat

Root scored six Test centuries with an average of 61 during a superb 2021 with the bat

“Amazing, really,” Atherton said. “That paradox of unbelievable personal success set against a calendar year in which England have lost nine Test matches.

“We almost feel as though those runs have gone to waste in a way – I mean, not a waste because he will look back with great pride at his year, but it hasn’t translated into victories, just four victories and nine defeats.”

Hussain added: “With everything that has been going on around him with those nine Test losses, the chaos and Covid, to watch him bat the way he has this year, carrying that side day in, day out, going in at 15 or 20-2 every single time – I think his batting has just been phenomenal.

“And not just stats, people get runs, it’s the way he gets his runs. His mindset at the crease, he’s playing with a smile on his face.

“That is something we mustn’t forget, as an England cricket captain, your primary focus is about winning Test matches and he’s not doing that so him, like Silverwood, is under pressure now and the axe could fall on him.

Mark Butcher analyses who could replace Root as Test captain if he was to step down following his side's humiliating Ashes defeat

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Mark Butcher analyses who could replace Root as Test captain if he was to step down following his side’s humiliating Ashes defeat

Mark Butcher analyses who could replace Root as Test captain if he was to step down following his side’s humiliating Ashes defeat

“But you are also an ambassador for your game and you cannot tell him that Joe Root is not a great ambassador for English cricket and the game in general; the way he goes about the game, the way he speaks about the game, his love of the game and more importantly, the way he plays and bats.

“We don’t sometimes admire – we talk about Ponting, Lara, Tendulkar and Kohli, we have one and his name is Joe Root. His year has just been phenomenal.”

While England still have two matches remaining in Australia, it is hard to imagine that discussions have not already begun at the ECB over what happens next.

Whatever decisions are made, Root will have a big role to play and, given the scarcity of options to take over as captain, that may not just be with the bat.