(Photo: Getty Images)
By Harvey Burgess
No sooner had reports emerged that Alastair Cook’s desire to continue with the England captaincy was fading away than his definitive successor was unofficially named across the country.
On Monday, Joe Root unsurprisingly became England’s 80th test captain at the age of 26. Experts and the Twittersphere alike had guessed that the Yorkshireman would follow Cook as leader of the Test side ever since England lost the second Test in India last year.
Root is undoubtedly the best player in the England side – indeed, no batsman in world cricket has scored more Test runs than him since his debut in 2012.
He is also one of a few permanent fixtures in the XI – Cook, Root, Ben Stokes, Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Moeen Ali and maybe Jonny Bairstow can consider themselves as starters. However, is Root really the right man for the job?
Let’s first consider some of the criticism that has been directed at the decision in the recent past. Root is thoroughly inexperienced as a captain. His one and only match as Yorkshire’s leader ended with Middlesex chasing down a target of over 400 runs, not exactly a brilliant experience to put on your CV.
He says himself that “my experience at senior level has remained rather limited” – could this hinder his ability to captain England’s Test side?
Countering this argument, Root has been England’s vice-captain since before the 2015 Ashes series and so is the natural successor to Cook. The 26-year-old has undoubtedly learnt a great deal while being vice-captain of the side and many people who know Root have since come out to declare how well-suited he is to the role.
Secondly, you only have to hark back to your schooldays to remember when the cricket team’s best player would almost automatically be named captain – are England using a similar formula?
This argument could be leveled at any of the leading Test nations, including India, Australia and New Zealand.
Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson are the leading batsmen of their respective countries and have all gone on to achieve even greater heights while in charge. Every one of them has increased their batting average – Smith’s stands at 73.73 (as captain), Kohli’s at 67.22 and the Kiwi’s currently reads 55, all significantly higher than their overall average.
Another problem that Andrew Strauss would have come across is the lack of credible alternatives. To be England captain, there are a few requirements to fulfill – you must be a regular member of the XI for one, while also being a respected member of the team.
The first requirement leaves but a few names left. Ben Stokes is arguably too fiery and temperamental for the top role, and so has been named as Root’s deputy.
Stuart Broad, the choice of former England spinner Graeme Swann, was dismally unsuccessful as T20 captain and has suffered a spate of injuries in recent times.
Jimmy Anderson, England’s all-time leading wicket-taker, has never been the most vociferous on the field and at the age of 34, how long does he even have left in the team?
The wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow has put in some fantastic performances since being called back into the team, but would the pressure of the captaincy put a halt to his recent form? As captain, wicketkeeper and batsman, it might just be too much to handle.
When all is said and done, nothing will change the fact that the Yorkshireman is now England’s captain. His first Test match in charge will come against South Africa in July and it is up to him to learn the ropes before then, by speaking to his predecessors, teammates and anyone else who may be able to help.
Despite some (admittedly rare) criticism, it seems clear that Joe Root is the right fit for the England captaincy – his lack of experience is not a problem, he could achieve greater things just as Kohli and Smith have done, and if that’s not enough, the lack of any reasonable competitor for the role leaves him alone as deserving for the job.