The Joe Root Dilemma

With no live cricket to look forward to, I’ve spent some time this week looking back. I came across this article I wrote about Joe Root in October 2015, just after he became the fastest English player in the modern era to score 3,000 Test runs. It really made me think.

I’d forgotten just how prolific Joe was in the first three years of his career. He reached 3,000 runs in just 62 innings at an average of 57. By comparison it took Alastair Cook 73 innings to reach this landmark.

Joe was in elite company at this point. In fact, he was the fifth fastest batsman to reach the 3,000 run landmark worldwide. The only players to do it faster (since the 1980s) were Brian Lara, Viv Richards, Virender Sehwag, and Matt Hayden. This put Root in front of legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Adam Gilchrist, Javed Miandad, Kumar Sangakkara, and some guy called Steve Smith. I’ve never heard of him either.

I finished off the article by making one of my typically boneheaded predictions: that history beckoned for Root. He was batting on a historical level so why not? I predicted the only thing that could stop him was his bad back. I even joked that the physio was arguably the second most important person in the England set up.

Obviously the factor I didn’t account for was the captaincy. I’m not sure I even envisaged the possibility that Joe might become captain in the not too distant future. Alastair Cook was ensconced in the role at the time and he hadn’t even reached his 30th birthday. I assumed Sir Alastair would play for at least another five years – I couldn’t see him giving up the captaincy, and I certainly couldn’t see the ECB ever sacking their favourite son.

The problem was that Cook lost form, England were losing too many matches, and Alastair eventually decided that enough was enough after a 0-4 defeat in India. There was no obvious replacement waiting in the wings, so England did what they often do in such circumstances – they turned to their best batsman to fill the void (even though said batsman had very little captaincy experience).

Although there wasn’t a compelling reason to give Root the captaincy – other than the fact that his place in the side was secure – there weren’t really many (any?) viable alternatives. Therefore everyone from the ECB to the supporters simply put their faith in Joe and hoped for the best. What else could we do? The golden boy had taken everything in this stride up to this point so there were reasons for optimism. Sadly, however, it hasn’t worked out – at least not for Root the batsman.

Joe’s Test average has dropped by almost ten runs (that’s a huge margin) since those halcyon days when he reached 3,000 Test runs in 2015. His average as captain is just 43 – pretty good for a normal international batsman but not nearly good enough for a guy as talented as Root. Indeed, his career record has now slipped down to 48 and he’s only scored 9 hundreds in his last 107 innings. He scored eight tons in his first 62 innings as he raced to 3,000. It’s pretty clear, therefore, that Root’s form has declined alarmingly at a stage in his career when he should be maturing and reaching his peak.

So what’s gone wrong? It simply has to be the captaincy. Root’s recent inability to covert many fifties into hundreds also suggests that he struggles somewhat with the mental burden of leading the team. Sometimes he cuts a forlorn figure and one wonders how well he copes with the criticism that inevitably comes his way from time to time.

Although one might argue that moving Root to 3 (where he averages just 38) also badly affected his form – why do so many people believe the fallacy that the best player should bat 3 when neither Virat Kohli nor Steve Smith do? – one could argue this experiment also stems from the captaincy. Root was always reluctant to bat at first drop but as captain he felt obliged try and lead from the front even though (in my opinion) his game is best suited to the middle-order.

Joe hasn’t been helped by the fact that he’s leading a somewhat erratic and inconsistent side. England’s batsmen have been bowled out for low scores too many times on his watch, and we’ve often struggled to post big first innings totals. This has put even more pressure on the captain and highlighted his (relative) lack of form with bat even more.

However, one can’t help wondering whether Joe’s form will ever improve while he’s carrying this burden. Some batsmen are inspired by the captaincy and seem to score more runs with the extra responsibility. Both Graham Gooch and Mike Atherton, for example, averaged significantly more when skippering the side. Andrew Strauss’s form was unaffected either way. But unfortunately many others lose their batting mojo.

When Michael Vaughan became England captain he averaged a superb 51. Five years later, even after an extremely successful spell as captain in terms of results, his average had fallen to 41. It’s incredibly disappointing that a man who’d destroyed one of the best attacks of all time in the 2002 ashes only averaged 35 when leading the side.

Sadly Joe Root seems to belong to this second category. But unlike Vaughan, who had excellent players around him like Marcus Trescothick, Kevin Pietersen, and Ian Bell, Root doesn’t have the same level of support. He’s very much the main man. And England need to squeeze every single run out of their best player to compete with the best.

In these difficult times, when there’s only a small amount of sports one can still enjoy, the positive side is that Joe can finally have an extended rest. This may reinvigorate him. Consequently, when cricket returns we may see him return to top form with the bat.

However, one wonders how long any purple patch will last. International cricket is incredibly intense, the schedule is relentless, and my best guess is that familiar problems (like his poor conversation rate) will return. Therefore, one has to ask whether England would be better served by Joe returning to the ranks – especially as he’s not exactly know as a master tactician.

There’s just one problem. And it’s an extremely familiar one. Who on earth would replace Root at the helm? The well-spoken and squeaky clean Jos Buttler might have been an option once, but he’ struggling with the bat too and one wonders if he’ll ever make it as a bonafide Test batsman.

The other alternative, of course, would be reigning Wisden Cricketer Of The Year Ben Stokes. However, this would be a big risk considering his off-field history and recent altercation with a South African supporter. Stokes is a brilliant cricketer, and much admired within the team, but he isn’t exactly the ECB’s model England captain.

What makes this dilemma even trickier is that there isn’t even a prolific young batsman to turn to this time. The default option therefore isn’t available. So what do England do?

I’m not going to answer this question myself – I’d like to hear what you think in the comments below – but England must gauge whether it’s worth diminishing our best batsman – our only world class batsman – because we’re unwilling to gamble on an alternative.

James Morgan


  • Perhaps the ECB could go out of their comfort zone a pick someone who has actually done the role for his county , Rory Burns.

  • Joe Root is not a captain and neither are Stokes or Butler. Maybe give Rory Burns ago. At least he has done it before and been successful

  • I agree that the best batsman does not always bat at 3, but the best bat I have seen since I started watching tests in the late 60s did bat at 3 – Rahul Dravid. Shame he never gets the credit just because he was less exciting to watch than the chancers.

  • I would be happy to see Root relieved of the captaincy , though finding an alternative is tricky. If Rory Burns is fit once cricket resumes post Covid-19 then he would be reasonably conventional option (the youngsters Sibley, Crawley and Pope should not yet be considered, Stokes as a fast bowling all rounder probably could not cope with the extra demands of captaincy, specialist pacers by and large do not fare well as captains, and given that Leach is not universally popular the only other two options beyond Burns that are remotely viable would be Denly, though that would be open to the charge of selecting a specialist captain given his moderate batting average – 30,00, and for an outright gamble the established off spinner Dom Bess). Probably, if I were making a captaincy change now I would opt for Burns with Bess to learn the ropes as vice-captain and take over when Burns retires.

    • You’re proposing making a 23-year-old who’s played four tests and whose place even in his county side isn’t especially secure the vice-captain? That’s, er, brave…

      • This may or may not be relevant but it’s recently emerged that Bess suffers from (or has suffered from) depression and anxiety. Consequently I’d be reluctant to put more pressure / responsibility on his shoulders at this stage.

    • I’m a great admirer of Joe Denly as a player, but please don’t even consider thinking of him as a Captain. Not fair on him and not likely to succeed. If you DO want to appoint a Captain from outside the squad, why not Sam Billings? He’s every bit as good as keeper as Buttler or Bairstow, and has the personality to make the job work.

  • I’d take a punt on Burns. Win the County Championship in 2018 captaining Surrey. The only other possibility is Broad, but he’s probably just to moody and sullen for me. And will be be around much longer. Stokes has enough to do and Butler just isn’t a Test player. Difficult one.

    • I’m wondering about that issue with Stokes these days. For a long time I’ve thought the same as you, but there’s nothing in being a seam-bowling all-rounder in itself that militates against being captain–it didn’t do Imran or Kapil Dev too much harm for example, and Sobers was captain for a long time.

      I’m wondering if England fans are too caught here in the memory of Botham and Flintoff–the stereotype of the freewheeling all-rounder who doesn’t think too deeply about the game, and neither of whom were good captains. But Stokes doesn’t seem to me to be completely that kind of all-rounder, if that makes sense–and he seems to approach the game with more intelligence and adaptability than some England players recently. So now I wonder…

      • He’s gobby (in a bad way), he’s aggressive (in a bad way), body is braking bowling wise and isn’t a front line pace man anywya and he only just starting to develop as a batter.

        Yes he (stokes) is inspirational with his fleeting exploits but that’s just it.. he’s a dasher who comes off still.. not a leader in that sense.

        Burns is sadly the only option as jos (who would be best) just isn’t good enough to command a spot and englsnd are not even close to being good enough to carry a player (althoguh we are carrying 4-5 batsmen currentlygiven their avgs )

      • Captaincy didn’t do Tony Greig too much harm either. Two of the best England captains, though not quickies, were Brian Close and Ray Illingworth

  • Rory Burns should be a serious contender, two years captaincy at Surrey including a Championship and now fairly established in the opening slot.

  • “recent altercation with a New Zealand supporter” – what was that one? Or was it the South African?

    Depends on what the ECB want. A world-class batsman able to be ‘selfish’, or an ok batsman wh is a make-do Captain. Should be an easy choice – I reckon Steve Smith will climb even greater heights now he isnt Captain, and surely they wont reinstate him

  • Trouble is there are no slots for a make shift skipper

    Opener 1. – burns
    Opener 2 – Sibley
    3 – denly/crowley
    4 – root
    5 – stokes
    6 – pope
    7 – foakes
    8 – Woakes
    9 – leech
    10 – archer
    11 – Anderson/broad

    Foakes – anyone know he he can do it ?

    Where the hell do you fit in a crap batter or bowler make weight? Anything you do massively weakens the side as our 4/5;6 are simply not good top order bats and you want to put the best player in the best spots.. not go back to pushing thr likes of root up and watching him suffer.. new ball is not these boys friends as they are 99% of thr time .. too aggressive

    • Why always batsmen? Why do we never consider a bowler as captain? (In my mind, this subliminal prejudice goes back to the old days of amateurs – mainly batsmen – and professionals – mainly bowlers.) Broad has done a decent job as captain with the white ball teams, and Anderson has a pretty good cricketing brain – either of them could do the job at least as a stopgap.

      • “Broad has done a decent job as captain with the white ball teams”.

        You mean like in the 2014 T20 WC when England got bowled out for 88 by the Netherlands and Giles was thanking the stakeholders at the end?

        Seriously, if there was a case for Broad or Anderson as a stopgap it was when Cook stood down and not now. I find the ECB’s prejudice against bowler captains as frustrating as anyone – but maybe Broad and Anderson should look at some of their behaviour over the years and ask if they themselves are not to blame? Maybe the responsibility of the captaincy would have broken their cliquishness but we’ll never know now.

      • Broad was a junior member of the awful clique which nearly ruined English cricket (led by Prior and Swann). If he did not have the character to stand up to them then, he does not have the character to be captain now. Same for Anderson.

      • Anderson and Broad.. members of the clique.. If that type of person is in your mind deserving of any form of leadership or captaincy role then that is very very sad.

        No person should be rewarded with such roles after that type of behaviour.. Leadership within them should have meant they stood up to such a clique/bullying.. not just joined in..

        Schoolboy stuff and shows they are nothing but cowards.. Not fit to lead England

      • It’s the general consensus that batsman are always favourites for captaincy as they can give full concentration to the job when in the field, the key time for captaincy. Bowler captains are renowned for struggling to balance their personal contribution with team tactics.
        As bowlers more often drift in and out of fitness and form they need more breaks to recharge batteries and of course there’s the old chestnut that batsmen are generally more intelligent, a view held by a most batsmen.
        Now there have been good bowler captains, of all types, but appointments always seem to raise eyebrows and appear initially to be afterthoughts in the absence of an obvious batting alternative. So the traditional prejudices still hold sway for whatever reasons.

  • Can’t see the point of changing now, when we just seem to be gelling as a team under him. He has certainly had his problems with confidence and captaincy, but he seems happy enough with his situation at present and there’s no Brearley in the wings. He clearly feeels this is his team and it has potential. I don’t see how giving it over to the likes of Burns is going to improve things for him or us. He’s not exactly failing with the bat and has been unsure of his place in the order in the past, batting in a position he was clearly not happy with. What replacing him might do to his confidence as a cricketer is more serious than his batting issues, which could well be partly due to the fact that bowlers are working him out. When you come on the scene and make an immediate impact bowlers pay special attention to you. It’s a bit like an extended version of second season syndrome. He’s only young yet and has many years ahead of him to improve his consistency, a bit like Stokes.

  • Zac Crawley for me. For those who have heard being interviewed, you’d think he has played 50 tests. He comes across as a very confident young man and his comments are very wise for someone who has only played a handful of tests.
    People tend to forget the maturity of people instead looking at age and experience and immediately write them off.
    No, I’m confident that Zac Crawley is the right man and his time should come when players like Broad and Anderson retire, then he will have more command of the dressing room.

    • You may be right, but he is a long way off confirming his batting place especially when Burns returns. If he does confirm it over the next 2 years he becomes a possibility. But we have seen too many top order bats tried and fail in recent years. It is too soon to know whether Crawley is a Keaton Jennings or an Alistair Cook. Based on what I have seen so far he has a better technique than the former but it needs a lot of tightening up to be anywhere near the better top order bats of recent years. He has time.

  • Maybe Root’s declining record has something to do with the rampant pitch-doctoring that’s been going on combined with the sainted Duke ball? There’s also been some inprovement in the quality of international bowling, especially among teams that England play frequently. The Aussie attack that Root made 180 off was nothing like they one they’ve got now.

    It’s easier to have a good batting average on a road against Pankaj Singh than against Pat Cummins on a green top.

    • We want better sporting wickets and you certainly want the duke ball. Root has ALWAYS been vulnerable to the moving ball (as all bar the best do). He’s got worse because he’s been pushing himself into the White ball reckoning which compromises your mentality AND technique.

      You only need to look at all the other players who try and play Red and White ball to see only the very cream can do it without losing something from their red ball game.

      Root should give up white ball and focus on Red ball. Simple as that!!

  • I think England should have made Anderson captain when Cook quite. Most experienced member of the side and one who was certain of his place. Unfortunately i think it’s now unlikely that we’ll see Anderson play test cricket again (though I hope I’m wrong). By my own rationale detailed here, I’d give Broad a go.

    • Both disqualified themselves by their behaviour as junior enforcers for the Prior/Swann clique.

      • This.. Both were complicit as part of the clique and fielder bashing.. let alone what they did to KP.. You can’t just forgive behaviour like that.. totally not team playing and certainly not leadership worthy

  • One interesting question for me is why the captaincy diminishes England players so much in terms of their form–and it’s happened to every captain appointed this century–but it doesn’t so much in other countries. Steve Smith, Clarke, Ponting, Fleming, Vettori, McCullum, Williamson, Kohli, Dhoni, Graeme Smith, Shakib al-Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim, Misbah, Younis Khan, Karunaratne, Mathews, Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Gayle and Holder, to name some, don’t seem to have hit the same troughs relative to their pre-captaincy days that Vaughan, Strauss, Cook and Root have–and some have been positively enhanced by it.

    It can’t be a format thing either, since almost all of them were also front-line players in their white-ball teams. It seems to be a national thing–but why?

    • Wasn’t there a time when the India team had several ex captains (including Tendulkar) in it?

      • …to say nothing of an England side that contained Boycett, Gower, Gatting and Botham (and which won the Ashes!)

  • “By having less than 18 counties, or by having a structure whereby counties were privately owned, the ECB would be able to create a more self-sufficient, sustainable county system”.

    Softening-up courtesy of those nice people at Oakwell Sports Consultancy.

  • For me, it can only be Burns. A captain has to be sure of his place in the side and Burns is the only realistic candidate who is. For reasons discussed here before, County cricket no longer nurtures captains. From the point of the England captaincy, the list of current County candidates is, Burns aside, pretty depressing. Also, there is no seasoned old pro. In the mould of Fletcher, Illingworth or Close who, though past their best on the pitch, could make up for that by their experience and captaincy skills. To say there is no Brearley would be an understatement- there’s not even a Chris Cowdrey !

  • Moeen Ali sure does have opinions on lots of things that find their way into the newspapers.

  • 16.66 delay until 2021 confirmed.

    The announcement, two thirds insane delusion to one third marketing bollocks, doesn’t suggest any rowing back on the competition itself at all.

    • “We’re losing such incredible amounts of money that what we really need most of all is a competition that our own forecasts show will lose significant amounts of money for at least five years”.

      Glad he’s not in charge of my bank!

      • Excellent, simply too risky. It’s creating an additional problem that we simply don’t need right now; if we ever did!

      • Yes and what you don’t do is launch a loss maker when your already in financial straights. If, and it’s looking increasingly likely, there is no cricket at all this season, the financial situation of both the counties and the ECB will be even worse next year. By launching a probable did bankruptcy looms! I wonder who the ECBs financial advisor is? What will be required is a period of consolidation, not hair brained projects.

        • I understand Sky want their money back that they’ve already paid for the 100. Not sure I’ll ever see the light of day.

  • Graves to get hsi run at the ICC job while Watmore cleared by the ‘investigation’. Hands up who’s surprised! At least the ICC election looks like it’ll be contested. I’ve no idea who Graves’ rival is but it’s difficult to believe he’s worse.

    It’s also worth pointing out Harrison left the door open to private stakes in the 16.66 teams.

    BTW there’s a dcotor with some interesting views on ‘viruses’ who happens to share his name with the best uncapped English batsman of the last decade (and it’s not Sam Northeast…. ).

  • Just wondering why there’s been a slew of moderated comments recently. I can’t remember seeing anything in any of them which would need moderating.


copywriter copywriting