I Saw Joe Root In His Prime

 

 

 

 

Root and Carberry

Derbyshire v New Zealand, Derby, 6th May & England  Lions v New Zealand, Grace Road, 10-11 May 2013

Last week I took the opportunity to have a couple of looks at the New Zealand tourists, as they prepared for the coming Test series with one game against Derbyshire (effectively a sort of Derbyshire 1 1/2 XI) and another against England Lions (pretty much the England 2nd XI).  I saw very little of New Zealand’s batting, but I’d say collectively their four seamers (Boult, Southee, Wagner and Bracewell) would make a very useful English County attack who shouldn’t really trouble a Test side – unless they happened to be playing in England in May, that is.

Before it became fashionable to insult Grace Road, the done thing was to complain about the County Ground in Northampton and, before that, it was usually Derby.  Although this piece of publicity material is a little idealised (you can’t actually see Chatsworth or the crooked spire of Chesterfield in the background)

Derbyshire

they have been making efforts to beautify the ground, with a new marquee and a temporary stand.  If you can avert your eyes from the Pavilion and the ricketty old stand with ‘East Midlands Demolition Company’ on it and ignore the constant roar from the infernal ring road, it can, on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday, be a very pleasant place to watch cricket.  Unlike at Grace Road, which I’ll come to in a minute, there was a very decent crowd, many of them families with small children, who seemed to have been attracted by the chance to sit in the sun and eat ice-cream (the best on the circuit, incidentally) rather than any particular interest in watching New Zealand.

In the eyes of the press, the story was what one of them (rather melodramatically) described as a ‘shoot out’ between Wagner and Bracewell for the role of third seamer in the Test side.  I’d agree with them that there wasn’t a great deal in it.  What did distinguish the South African born Wagner was his Steve Kirby-style act of following through to within a few feet of the batsman and pulling faces at him.  After Billy Godleman had hit one ball for four Wagner followed this up by first miming throwing the ball at him and then actually letting it go, knocking his bat from his hand.  This would have been more impressive if he hadn’t been considerably shorter than Godleman, and earned him a warning from the Umpire, but may be enough to give him the edge over Bracewell in the eyes of the Selectors.

If the crowd at Derby was respectable, the attendance at Grace Road was frankly pathetic for a match featuring the full New Zealand Test side and an England Lions XI featuring one or two potential all-time greats.  On the Friday the paying customers were outnumbered by a huge contingent from the ECB (there for a strategy meeting, apparently) including Giles, Flower and a smartly-suited Andrew Strauss.  For some reason (perhaps they were afraid of an assassination attempt on Kevin Shine) this seemed to involve a massive security operation, including extra stewards, a draconian enforcement of the ‘smoking policy’ and Matthew Hoggard being ordered from his perch on top of the Fox Bar.  And all for a crowd that was smaller than I’ve seen at some Second XI matches.

Much of the crowd was a made up of a group of what appeared to be full-time autograph hunters, who seemed to be stalking Strauss, in particular, with the cunning and avidity of a group of tweenage Beliebers.

Autograph Hunters

I didn’t learn much about the New Zealand batting.  This was my only sight of McCullum, who edged one off Onions when he was on one (imagine the roar if that had happened at Lord’s!)

McCullum

– nor the Lions’ bowling.  Rather like the New Zealanders, Onions, Woakes, Barker and Roland-Jones looked like a useful County attack, particularly in May, though it was Roland-Jones who seems to have the knack of picking up wickets.

The Lions’ reply got off to a flyer with three successive No Balls off the first three deliveries from Boult (a problem that continued throughout the afternoon)

No ball

– but the big story was, of course, the simultaneous appearance of Root, Bairstow and Taylor.

Root’s talent seems to lie in an iron determination to ‘execute his plan’ (as they say), regardless of any ideas the bowlers might have.  His plan for the day seemed to be to make 50 by tea, which involved a lot of this

Root

and this

Joe Root

before moving from 44 to 50 with a six into the Pavilion, then accelerating to 100 by the close of play.  In the two hours of play on Saturday his batting was positively Apollonian, and was supported very effectively by the low handed shovelling and slapping of Johnny Bairstow.

There was a reprise of the New Zealanders’ coconut shy routine, incidentally, with Boult, I think, banging the ball into the ground from close range so that it bounced over the batsman’s head and another chuck hitting Umpire Jeremy Lloyds on the leg with what purported to be an attempted run out (provoking an outbreak of tittering in the slips).  Lloyds was responsible for most of the no-balling and had turned down a couple of appeals.

Once the rain set in, Bairstow (who seems a thoroughly likeable bloke) commandeered the TV in the Fox Bar and spent the afternoon watching Rugby League.  James Taylor, however, who had been dismissed for two before I arrived at the ground, headed off  for a session in the indoor nets, perhaps hoping that a win in the Cup Final for his team – Manchester City – might provide him with some consolation for a doubly deflating day.

Taylor

I think there is a real danger of England losing a great talent in Taylor, though it is worth bearing in mind that he’s still only 23.  He does have one flaw, and has always had it since is his days at Leicestershire, which is his tendency to play across his pads to balls pitched up on off or middle stump.  Once he is set he gets away with it, but, in the first few overs he is in, he is terribly vulnerable to being out LBW.  If he tries to compensate for this by playing straight he tends to get caught behind (as he was on Saturday).  As I have to no pretensions to being a batting coach or a sports psychologist I’m afraid I have no advice to offer as to a cure, but I suspect a minor technical flaw may be turning into a mental block.

This would be a pity. I would always prefer to watch Taylor’s witty, inventive, brave batsmanship  in preference to Bairstow’s jolly bludgeoning or even Root’s rather glacial classicism, which inspires awe rather than affection.  And in a side with five established batsmen (including Prior) there must surely be room for a little self-indulgence.

But perhaps his omission for this series will work in his favour.  Taylor is at his best against spin and real pace and his natural element would be a spitting turner in Chennai or a fierce lifter in Perth.  His weakness is against the English county seamer in May, which, as I have suggested, is pretty much what he would be facing next week.

6 thoughts on “I Saw Joe Root In His Prime

  1. I’m looking forward to seeing Root’s glacial classicism in the flesh. His French cricket shot in your second photo is surprising – both feet facing the bowler, back arched.
    I was part of a much larger crowd at Old Trafford on Friday, watching the Lancs/Essex match. I was there with 400+ colleagues at our staff away day. We comfortably outnumbered the spectators in the stands. In a notable confluence, the match restarted after rain, the CEO finished the awards ceremony and the bar opened, all within minutes of each other. Duty then took me away into town when the Lancs run chase was hotting up.

  2. A bit of a fanciful phrase. I think what’s happened in the photo is that he’s started coming down the wicket then changed his mind. I didn’t mean that he’s straight out of the MCC Coaching Manual, just that there’s nothing very individual about his batting. Maybe a classic in a modern style.

    It did seem odd that there must have been less than 100 at Grace Rd., when there’s a full house at Lord’s to watch the same NZ side play an England side who aren’t very much better than the Lions.

  3. I thought ‘glacial classicism’ was a magnificent phrase too, but at the moment it’s as much Root’s temperament that’s glacial as his technique (although that’s far from poor), and that’s probably more important at this stage.

    His apparent coolness and maturity borders on the unnatural, and watching him bat, take skiers or simply sit on the Lord’s balcony chatting to Cook, you can see the years stretching out ahead. You wouldn’t back against him still being there in twelve years’ time, which is quite a thought.

    As you know, I watch nearly all my county cricket at Taunton, where crowds for CC games are very good (typically 2000 plus on a good day in high summer, if such a thing exists anymore), so I’m always a bit shocked when I go to more sparsely populated grounds. The thought occurs that a lot of people, while they may contend that they’re interested in cricket, are really only interested in the first-class game if it represents an event – i.e. if it’s a Test match, hyped to the rafters on Sky, and especially if it’s part of an Ashes series. The County Championship or Lions’ games just won’t cut it. Mind you, unless you’re retired, unemployed or a student, you need to be unusually committed to put aside the time to watch it.

    Personally, if I lived near Leicester I’d have been down there like a shot, but I am unusually committed (or should perhaps be committed).

  4. I thought there was an interesting exchange on TMS where Jeremy Coney asked, I think, Michael Vaughan whether Root reminded him of anyone & he couldn’t think of anyone in particular. Perhaps because he doesn’t have any obvious weaknesses and it’s a batsman’s strengths and weaknesses that define their style?

    2,000 does sound exceptionally good – I’m not sure they get that many at Trent Bridge for a CC match & I don’t think we’d have that size of crowd at Grace Road for a 40 over match on a sunny Sunday. There were some mitigating circumstances for the poor crowd on the Saturday – both Tigers and Leicester FC were involved in playoff matches and it was bitterly cold. I’m sure you’re right that there are many cricket fans who are really only interested in international cricket and who wouldn’t think of watching another match that involved many of the same players (even if it only cost them £10.00).

    On the other hand, I think a lot of the regulars at Leicester didn’t turn up because they’re really only interested in watching Leicestershire and have only a passing interest in international cricket (and were being asked to pay an extra £5.00 on top of their membership subscription!). Different worlds.

  5. ‘2000 plus’ was probably a bit of an over-estimate, but I saw George Dobell quote the crowd at the first day of the Warwickshire game which was on Sky a few weeks ago at 2000 when it didn’t look that many to me. It’s mostly guesswork but the crowds at Taunton are certainly unusually good. I can’t put my finger on why, apart, perhaps from a tradition of supporting the local county which has held up better in Somerset than in some other parts of the country and what I’d guess may be a higher number of retired people than in other counties, certainly the metropolitan ones.

    It’s great as it ensures there’s always some atmosphere. I’ve been to many CC days at Lord’s in the distant past, and odd days here and there at Trent Bridge, Old Trafford and Edgbaston, and the lack of atmosphere because of small crowds in large grounds can make it really heavy going.

    Mind you, you’re right about the hardcore’s interest in county cricket to the exclusion of international cricket. Indeed, some almost wear it as a badge of honour.

    I think we’re being asked to pay £10 for a couple of one-day games between the Lions and Bangladesh A in August and I doubt if any stewards will be bowled over by the stampeding crowds.

  6. Reblogged this on The New Crimson Rambler and commented:

    I don’t seem to have managed to say anything much about the New Zealanders this time around (in spite of having seen them twice), so here is “another chance to read” what I had to say about them last time around (in May 2013) and, more specifically, about Joe Root’s performance against them for the England Lions.

    I can’t claim any particular prescience in highlighting Root’s talent (though I suppose I was “ahead of the curve” in complaining about the heavy-handedness of the ECB).

    It is interesting to note, though, that, of that Lions side, he is the only one to have established themselves as an England regular (whither Toby Roland-Jones? Chris Wright?).

    James Taylor was not, of course, taken to India or Australia and might well still consider himself ill-used.

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