He is the baby-faced batsman who slotted into England’s line-up in India in 2012-13 and immediately looked like he was there to stay. The silent destroyer who has hit Test double-hundreds batting at three, four and five in the order, becoming one of world cricket’s so-called ‘Fab Four’. And, for the last four years, he has been the captain of his country, moving to within two wins of becoming the most successful man ever to lead England.
It is fair to say that Joe Root has made his mark on international cricket as he gets set to earn his 100th Test cap when England face India in Chennai on Friday in the First Test of a hugely-anticipated four-match series, the first being shown on UK terrestrial TV in 16 years. Root is now England’s fourth-highest Test run scorer and, as his scores of 228 and 186 in the 2-0 series win in Sri Lanka in January showed, he is right back at the very top of his game.
That return to form in Galle couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. With England missing Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer among others, they needed simply to pick up maximum points for their World Test Championship campaign and get some confidence into them on the kind of turning pitches they will see plenty of in Chennai and Ahmedabad over the next five weeks.
And Root ensured exactly that with two match-winning knocks which reminded the cricket world of his quality on subcontinental tracks. He now has a career average of 65.50 in Sri Lanka, 57.40 against Pakistan in the UAE, and – most notably – takes a 53.09 average in India with him into Friday’s opener.
When England last visited India in 2016-17, the Yorkshireman racked up scores of 50+ in every Test, including 124 in the first innings of the drawn first match, despite his side going down to a 4-0 defeat which spelt the end of predecessor Alastair Cook’s spell as captain. If Root can rack up similar scores this time around, then that will hopefully serve as the basis for a far closer series than four years ago.
Key to that will be the bowling attack’s handling of Virat Kohli. The India captain made hay on England’s last visit, chalking up 655 runs at 109.16, with scores of 167 and 235 being the basis for big India wins. For a better return this time around, England will need greater control from their spinners than Dom Bess and Jack Leach were able to provide at times in Sri Lanka, even if the pair ended up claiming 19 of the 40 wickets England took on the tour.
Maybe that is where Root’s biggest challenge will lie. While some questions had been asked of his quality with the bat until recently, doubts about his captaincy will soon crop up if he cannot find the right formula in the field during this series. Legendary seamers Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson seem set to be spelled once more, while Archer’s return will help to ease the burden on Mark Wood. But it will be the spinners who will take the brunt of the burden in Indian conditions.
Throw in worries over England’s top order, boosted by the return of Rory Burns but needing a lift after a shortage of runs in Sri Lanka for Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley, and there is plenty weighing on Root’s mind as the series begins.
“We’ve still got improvement in all areas,” said Root as they left Sri Lanka. “We’ve not had the complete performance in either game.
“We are very clear about how we want to play our cricket and we want to strive to reach that and be more consistent. We’re starting to see that progression and it working time and time again. It’s about having that desire to improve all the time.”
When he steps out onto the field as an England Test player for the 100th time on Friday, Root should be afforded a moment to reflect on a fantastic career so far. And then it will be down to the business of leading England to a famous series win. The whole country will be watching.