Home » The Root cause: England need their best batter to come to the party

The Root cause: England need their best batter to come to the party

As far-fetched as some of Joe Root’s dismissals in this series is the statistic that he has bowled more overs than he has scored runs over the past month in India. You wouldn’t expect someone who averaged 50.1 in India before this tour to endure such a wretched run where six innings have yielded 77 runs at an average of 12.83.

England’s Joe Root during the fourth day of the third Test match between India and England in Rajkot (AFP)

For context, only Rehan Ahmed, Mark Wood, James Anderson and Shoaib Bashir have scored fewer runs for the visitors. The saving grace is his numbers as an off-spinner: seven wickets in 107 overs while showing enough control to complement Tom Hartley in the absence of Jack Leach.

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That’s not what Root is there for though. His primary job, as the lynchpin of the England batting unit, is to make plenty of runs at No.4. If he hasn’t done that yet in this series, he has largely himself to blame.

Unlike the 2021 series where the ball spun spitefully in three of the four Tests — a consequence of Root making a double ton on a flat pitch in the first game to lead England to a 227-run win — the contests this year have been played on broadly batting-friendly tracks. Seven centuries and totals of 350-plus in at least one innings of each Test bear testimony to Root spurning more than one opportunity for a big score in the series.

Nothing illustrates his seemingly scrambled brain better than his dismissal in the first innings in Rajkot. Rewinding to the start of Day 3 when England were handsomely placed at 207/2 with Root batting on 9, the stage was set for the former captain to get stuck into an Indian bowling unit missing its most experienced spinner. But what did Root instead do?

Off just the fifth over of the morning session, Root, 30 balls into his innings, decided that he could reverse ramp Jasprit Bumrah over the slip cordon. It’s hard enough presenting a dead bat to Bumrah — ask Ollie Pope — but here was Root having the gall to premeditate against a bowler who had dismissed him eight times in 20 innings.

The outcome was disastrous for Root as his miscued shot was snaffled by an alert Yashasvi Jaiswal at second slip. Yes, Root has had a fair amount of success with the reverse ramp in Tests — most notably in the Ashes against Pat Cummins and Scott Boland — but it wasn’t clever of him to be attempting such ingenuity at a time when the runs have dried up. That England fell like ninepins — they lost their last eight wickets for 95 runs and conceded a 126-run first-innings deficit — after Root’s wicket only amplified his blunder.

The current England regime isn’t one to highlight individual mistakes at least publicly, but skipper Ben Stokes conceded it was the turning point of a game where they were pummelled by 434 runs.

“I can understand why there would be frustration around that because of how good a player Joe is. Yes, because he got out to it, definitely (it) was a turning point,” Stokes said at the post-match press conference in Rajkot.

Root’s over-eagerness to attack proved costly in the second innings in Vizag too, charging at the wily R Ashwin off just his tenth delivery for a wild heave on the leg side without getting to the pitch of the ball.

That Root is wanting to take the attack to the Indian bowlers isn’t as much of a problem as his haste in attempting to do so. A Vizag surface that held together even in the fourth innings certainly didn’t call for Root to manufacture scoring shots, particularly when he’s equipped with the best defensive game against spin in this England set-up.

It would be simplistic as well as inaccurate to suggest — as some observers have — that Root’s batting is bearing the brunt of a tweak in approach in the Bazball era.

Since June 2022 (when Brendon McCullum and Stokes became coach and captain respectively), Root has actually tallied 1604 runs in 21 Tests at an average of 50.12 and a strike rate of 73.71. His numbers before that were 9889 runs in 117 Tests at 49.19 and 54.65.

Bazball or not, what these figures tell us is that Root is a great batter who should be chastising himself for grossly misfiring when those with far less experience like Ollie Pope and Ben Duckett have punched above their weight. If there’s a positive for Root to draw with two Tests left, it’s that he still has a chance to make an impact and bring England back into the series.