Root is England’s man for all the occasions

Chris Stocks looks at the rise of Joe Root – England’s Player of the Year

When Joe Root swept the board at England’s awards dinner in Leeds on Monday night it came as no surprise. The 25-year-old was rewarded for a stellar year across all formats and in all conditions with the Test, limited-overs and fans’ Player of the Year gongs.

As a member of the England media pack, and having seen the majority of Root’s innings from the start of last summer in the flesh, I was given the privilege of voting on the first two awards.

I went for Root in each category, even if Stuart Broad made a strong case for winning the Test award following his sensational, series-winning spells against Australia at Trent Bridge and South Africa in Johannesburg.

Yet Root scored defining centuries in both those Tests which were arguably just as, if not more, important than Broad’s headline-grabbing contributions. The Yorkshire batsman’s first-innings 110 at The Wanderers was probably the best Test century I have witnessed live. Coming in a contest that was evenly poised until Broad’s demolition on the third afternoon, it was crucial to England’s success and enabled Alastair Cook’s side to eke out a 10-run first-innings lead.

His hundred at Trent Bridge came after Broad’s 8-15 destroyed Australia, but proved that it was Broad’s brilliance – plus some shocking batting from the tourists – and not the pitch that saw Michael Clarke’s men bundled out for 60 on the first morning of the fourth Ashes Test.

Root scored one more hundred in the qualifying period, again against Australia in the series opener in Cardiff. It was an innings that set the tone for the whole series and gave England belief they could compete against an Australian team who had entered the summer as firm favourites to retain the Ashes.

Remarkably, Root has scored 10 Test half-centuries since the start of last summer. His average of 54.84 would be even higher had he converted more of those.

As it is, his average of 68.08 since he was dropped from the last Test of England’s 2013-14 Ashes whitewash in Sydney tells you what a motivation that tour was in his development.

“Yes, the pain of those defeats helped spur me on,” he admitted this week. “You learn from the mistakes you make. You learn from the bad games and the bad tours and, when things are going well, you think about that and you make the most of it.

“You don’t get lazy; you don’t rest on your laurels. You make it count. This game can be brutal. As soon as you get comfortable, it bites you. You have to stay on it all the time.”

It’s apt Root stores such an emphasis on having the right attitude because that was questioned on the last Ashes tour.

He has, quite simply, grown up. Mahela Jayawardene had an altercation with Root when England lost to Sri Lanka at Headingley in 2014. The genesis of the niggle came when the Sri Lanka great compared him to a female American comedian.

“I just asked him if he was related to Ellen DeGeneres,” says Jayawardene. “He has a similar look, so I just had a conversation with him about it.

“Other than that it wasn’t anything nasty. But some of the Sri Lanka guys did go into him because he was a young English lad who probably gave a bit when our boys were batting so he got a few back when he was batting. Rooty has matured now, and I’m sure he’s passed that stage in his life.”

Jayawardene was also full of admiration for Root’s achievements in limited-overs cricket. There have been four hundreds and four half-centuries in ODIs for Root in the past year, runs that have fired the engine of England’s brilliant one-day renaissance.

However, Root’s most remarkable innings was the 83 from 44 balls in March that helped England chase down 230 against South Africa at the World T20 in Mumbai.

That alone was enough to make him limited-overs player of the year, but he has done so much more in so many different conditions.

“I’ve been very impressed with the way he played in the T20 World Cup,” said Jayawardene. “He’s evolving and pretty much every opportunity he gets he’s improving his game. It proves he works hard at his game and at the same time he shows he has a good head to handle situations. The challenge for Rooty is to keep doing that, keep improving himself and enjoying his cricket, which he seems to be doing quite well.”

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday May 20 2016

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