There’s more to what meets the eye, in the cover drives, in the flicks and cuts, in the banter that is abuzz around batsmen and in the celebration that occurs every time a wicket falls. These are to cricket what seasons are to our beloved blue planet. They come and go and return with great punctuality. What makes the game so intricate is how players evolve through these seemingly mundane occurrences to create a name for themselves and build a reputation that befits their potential.
Not all men are leaders, nor are all visionaries. Some love to flirt with individual glory, some carve it for their teams, put them all in the mix and let them function together — they will rise and fall, win and lose and eventually show their true nature. This is when we know who fits best in which role.
A nobody to a decent lad to a prominent figure in the team to heir to heir apparent to captain. Wouldn’t that be the stairway that most cricketers aspire to climb up? How difficult a climb would that be? Who would know better than Joe Root?
He is undoubtedly England’s most fluent batsman currently — at least in the test setup. He bats as if he was born to. There is none of the forced inculcation of trigger, obscene crouching and technicalities being overdone while facing the ball — all that is common in English batsmen and all of which make batting look more tinkered than can be palatable. Instead, we see child-like enthusiasm appear through his shots. Some are crisp, some rasping, some belligerent — but all appearing like beautiful strokes from a painter’s brush. A fanciful collection of angles, arcs and tangents- Joe Root is the much needed entity in England’s cricket and perhaps its magnum opus in the genre of modern day batsmanship.
English cricket has been fortunate to have players ready to take over as captain every time an incumbent has decided to step down. There have always been, in most eras, players touted by administrators, audiences, commentators and analysts as future captains and these players have taken to captaincy with a great deal of ease. Of course, in the English setup and their not-so-enviable record in general, every little success has been significant and elevated the aura of skippers.
England has never been the team of whirlwind frenzy. The English love their traditions and rarely if ever go off course. Their most solid batsmen have always been elevated as captains and have led their teams with the weight of tradition and lineage bearing down on them. That is not to say that England has played poor cricket over the years, but only to reflect that the team has almost never played with the I care a damn attitude— which can be rather necessary sometimes. All said and done, this is a game and a platform for players to express themselves and explore their limits.
The decision to promote Joe Root as captain was as obvious as the arrival of spring after the chill of winter. He had been waiting in the wings for a little while as his predecessor went around the globe, collecting runs sternly and winning matches at reasonable frequency. But now that Root has been made in-charge, there is no reason to think if there was anybody better-suited to the rigours of captaincy. That being said, one cannot stop wondering if there was actually nobody more suitable in the team.
Root is a fantastic batsman and an absolute team man, but is that all it takes to be captain? Has he demonstrated the ability to look around the ground, communicate with the all and sundry of the team, remember each’s strengths and weaknesses and gain their support? Is he, as Shakespeare said, made of sterner stuff? For most parts so far, it has appeared that he loves batting and does so with great ease. But has he been part of tougher situations like batting to save a test match, suggesting strategies and fields to the captain and bowler when they are forced to re-evaluate their plans, taking his team to victory from a near impossible position? If there is a hardy part of Joe Root, it has never been required to come to the fore.
There is another English player as adaptable to situations as an amphibian but never really propped to be captain. This man is a fantastic athlete, is street smart, doesn’t shy away from the odd hoick for a 6, doesn’t mind being asked to keep wickets, is up for challenges, bats in the lower middle order and still scores heaps of runs. Jonny Bairstow does to the English test team what it has never wanted to do to itself. He makes it flexible and agile. His 2016 was statistically extraordinary, but to an eye that sees beyond numbers, his worth can never be exaggerated.
Bairstow’s adaptability means that he would impose the same scheme on the team and turn its presence to be relevant to the modern game. His keeping must surely have won him the confidence of bowlers and his chatter must be a constant presence in their ears. He stands between England’s lower order batsmen and the opposition and that in itself summarizes his importance. To have the ability spoken so highly of, by Rudyard Kipling in his poem If, Bairstow has shown that he can talk with crowds and walk with kings without any trouble — an invaluable quality for a leader to possess.
Yet, in the argument between the contemporary and the conventional, English cricket’s conservative traditions prevent it from taking bold decisions that would enable it to surge ahead of competition. While the selection of Joe Root is a result of convention, how effectively he would lead the team shall have a significant impact on test’s cricket’s popularity in its very home.
To lose a Joe sprightly driving the ball through covers to the pensiveness of captaincy would be a loss too big for the cricketing fraternity to forgive; and forget.