Pretty soon someone is going to prise the brush out of Joe Root’s automaton fingers

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If you needed to sum up England’s latest series defeat in a single quote, you could do a lot worse than Joe Root’s pre-tour comment: “I don’t want this to sound like a development tour at all but…”

A friend of ours tells a story about when he did a few days of temp work in a supermarket distribution centre in our home town.

One day the line stopped and so our mate started flattening boxes or something until it was fixed. After a minute or two, he noticed another worker was still standing at the conveyor belt, completely motionless, clearly with no idea what to do.

“Why don’t you sweep up or something?” suggested our mate and handed him a brush. The guy took this on board and started sweeping.

Our mate was due a break pretty soon after this, so he wandered off and had a sandwich or whatever and when he returned, the line was going again. And this bloke was still brushing the floor.

Joe Root is not a sub-moron but there has frequently been a wisp of this incredible obliviousness to changed circumstances about his captaincy.

The most obvious example was when England spent an entire morning pointlessly bouncing Jasprit Bumrah last summer. It was a bad plan from the start but even if Root didn’t realise that – and clearly he didn’t – he was then handed a growing body of evidence that this was not a good way of going about things. He responded by carrying on until India decided enough was enough and declared.

Those sorts of tail-end partnerships have happened a number of times, including in the latest defeat. England had a big last wicket partnership of their own in this Test, but that felt like more of a one-off whereas the West Indies one was part of what is becoming a big long-running franchise.

Similarly, Root’s often criticised for picking the XI that should have played the previous Test, seemingly unaware that things have moved on. He’s not a bad guy, he’s not the worst captain, but it does always feel like he’s consistently one step behind when you really need your captain to be one step ahead. Two steps feels like a lot to make up after 64 Tests in charge.

This even applies to Root’s desire to continue as captain. When Mike Atherton, Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan and Wisden editor Lawrence Booth all think you should go, it’s hard to see how a new coach will be able to kick off their reign by confidently stating you’re the best man for the job. Root is going to get the boot, but he doesn’t seem to have spotted this yet.

It is hard to captain a crap team, but with this West Indies tour in particular it feels like Root has been contributing to the crapness. Offered the chance to show the world his vision of the future, he’s given us second-tier right-arm fast-medium bowlers, a few more air miles for Matt Parkinson and the continued inability to prevent “one bad session” from becoming “one seismically, match-losing session”.

It’s all so shrug-inducing and conservative. If it weren’t for the injury to Mark Wood and the bafflingly protracted unfitness of Ollie Robinson, it’s doubtful Saqib Mahmood would have got a game – and he is arguably the one interesting development from this not-a-development-tour.

In which case what would the soft-binning of Anderson and Broad have achieved? A couple more games for seam bowlers who get games pretty damn regularly anyway. England had used nine pace bowlers in the 12 months of Test matches leading up to this series without even trying. The idea that you have to actively ditch your opening bowlers to create “opportunities” is bollocks.

Nasser Hussain is probably right when he says the decision was more about trying to, “create this atmosphere where they were all mates and all in it together” by selecting “10 yes men.”

If that works out – lovely. But it didn’t work out and so this not-a-development-tour will most likely bring one significant development after all.

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19 comments

  1. You could put it another way – both Broad and Anderson are, in their own ways, self-obsessed (as most great sportspeople are). When things are going badly, it seems possible that they could both be toxic. The team have spent far too much time together, and it’s reasonable to think that everyone needed breathing space. Don’t agree with the All Blacks “no dickheads” thing entirely, but you do need to have a balance, and that balance shifts when you’ve spent what seems like every waking moment together for months on end, having a largely horrible time.

    I remember watching a Mighty Boosh DVD that included a tour documentary, and it looked like they genuinely disliked each other by the end of the tour. Never reformed after it. Think Robert Webb has spoken about the strange experience of being David Mitchell’s best man at a time when they were hardly speaking, again after a tour, having prior to that been best friends for over a decade. Robert Plant on desert island discs a few weeks ago talked about what a horrible time he had on the legendary Led Zeppelin seventies US tours. Sportsmen can’t even do drugs to get away from it all.

    On Root as captain, I’m always nervous about changing because you think you have to. Smacks a bit of “it can’t get any worse”. It can always get worse. As Edgar says in King Lear, the worst is not, so long as we can say “this is the worst”. Root is great at the being nice and inoffensive part of the job (which maybe shouldn’t be important, but in reality is), and he is and will remain definitely a part of England’s first eleven. You can argue that only someone who hated Root would upon the rack of this tough world stretch him out longer, but he seems to want to continue. The wonder is, he hath endur’d so long. Sorry to disagree, but I feel that the weight of this sad time we must obey; speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.

    1. That’s a valid point about the intensity of recent touring environments, but we’d suggest that any toxicity from Anderson and Broad – two intelligent, experienced cricketers whose ill-temper is generally fed by their will to win – is arguably borne of an awareness that their captain is perhaps not doing a particularly good job any more – if he ever was.

      Things certainly can get worse, but even so there’s surely not much to be gained from them staying the same.

      1. Agree re Anderson and Broad, a ferocious will to win is hardly a bad thing, and even if the situation had become toxic (at least temporarily) it’s not necessarily the fault of two players who both seem in general likeable and pleasant, more everything put together. Might be complete nonsense anyway, of course.

        Changing a failing team is an area where it’s reasonable for supporters not to want what’s best for the team in terms of winning. It’s miserable watching a team fail in exactly the same way most of the time. A 5% decrease in average effectiveness might be worth it if it’s at least different players failing in different ways. And even if it’s, on average, likely to be worse, the new team might have a greater chance of being really good. The problem is selectors can then get into a panicked spiral of changing things constantly because they feel they have to. Not that I’m still scarred by the 90s.

    1. I don’t want to drag the shambling corpse of Morgan around as test captain three years after he last played a FC game; he’s not even really worth a place in the limited overs teams these days. If you’re going to go that route, might as well go with Buttler, he’s more likely to contribute elsewhere. Not that I want him either, let him be the next Morgan.

      I don’t know; I’ve heard lots of good things about Abell’s captaincy, but he’s pretty old to be parachuting in now and probably wouldn’t justify a place otherwise (ditto Will Rhodes). Moeen, Burns or Broad (or Vince!) might, in the short term, while they find a better option. I guess Malan didn’t cover himself in glory as a county captain.

      1. Tom Abell is 28 years old. If that’s ‘pretty old’ then I’m just about ready to draw my pension.

  2. The biggest beneficiaries of the soft-binning are Broad and Anderson.

    They haven’t had to slog away on two absolute roads, and now presumably get to return in the summer on far friendlier pitches.

    Presumably Strauss, Collingwood and the rest of the temporary coaching staff have not done themselves any favours and won’t be kept on, and Root is probably going to lose his job. Broad may even be his replacement.

  3. I think in a way Joe Root was quite a good captain for the “we actually want to win the white-ball World Cups” period of his captaincy – inoffensive, quite loyal to Giles/Strauss/Smith/Bayliss, willing to have fun (see the ‘Total Cricket’ phase), and not too beaten down by the occasional 4-0 loss to Australia.

    But now that we’re in the post-Bayliss, “we need to win the Ashes” period, I think he’s been exposed slightly by the focus on the Test team, and the expectation that England might win some Test series at some point. Sure, it’s not a great team, and they’ve played some difficult fixtures, but if England are really going to concentrate on being a proper Test team now they may need someone who is slightly less happy to take the positives from defeat, slightly more tactically astute, and slightly more ambitious in the pursuit of victory.

  4. This is not a bad summary of what is happening, but I am not particularly confident that whoever theoretically takes over from Root would solve many of the problems.

    And in terms of who might take over: there only seems to be one other player who is guaranteed to play when fit, and he already has to bowl and bat, so that would be putting a whole barn’s worth of eggs in the Ben Stokes basket.

    Unless there is another obvious candidate I’m overlooking?

    1. We’re definitely not in ‘new captain will solve all problems’ territory. They might not solve any, but rolling the dice seems a surer route to improvement than Root picking another fast-medium attack who don’t disagree with him before asking the batters to try not to collapse again.

      There is no obvious candidate. Australia recently reshaped what the captaincy job actually is with Cummins saying he’d delegate some on-field decision-making. Maybe England have to do something similar. Maybe they can find a really, really opinionated experienced head coach and then just pick a guy to look after the bowling changes and field placings.

      Make it a far more trivial position. Pick a captain for each series rather than trying to anoint some all-powerful prophet tasked with leading us to the promised land.

      1. They may not even need to go that far. Maybe make Stokes captain and play him as a specialist bat? England’s pretty well stocked on right arm mediums, and woakes is good enough to provide some all round balance.

      2. Yes, I genuinely think we’ve always set far too much store by this role over the years, all the way to it having to be the perfect role model, professional, best player (batter) etc etc, when you just want someone to oversea the tactical decisions on the pitch and try and turn around a few tankers with speedboat changes, when the game just inexorably drifts away from us and which Root has proved himself incapable of time and again. Doesn’t have to be for any more than a series, really… not like you are appointing Mr England Cricket for the next five-year stint as head of a new ‘regime’.

        Why does it always have to be a batter, though?

        Could you do any worse than bringing in a journeyman? Most of the current XI are contributing absolutely sod all per game at present anyway (#2-7 scored a combined 65 runs in that test).

        In other news, MP Vaughan back to BBC media duties next week; as if English cricket fans haven’t suffered enough already…

      3. @Uday: you may be able to tell Stokes not to bowl himself, but is it realistic that he’d stick to that when the going got tough? Quite like the plan apart from that though!

  5. If England do want to start winning, they would first need to start respecting every test series and not just the ones that start with an ‘a’ and end with an ‘s’. You don’t need a captain to say that, but perhaps sometimes you do, and that has been Root’s failing (among others). Strength-wise, the England team is as good as any. Or perhaps even better. But you can’t go into every fucking series thinking it’s preparation for the Aussies.

    1. when i first saw this post it worried me as it suggested there may be multiple “australias” and we lose often enough when there’s only one of them 🙁

    1. I’m with Deep Cower on this one. In the 90s we knew that there was a talent deficit at the heart of England’s problems.

      This time around, the real frustration for me is that there is a wealth of talent (evidenced to some extent through the ODI & T20 success) but England simply fails to produce more than the sum of its parts – indeed it produces far less than the sum of its parts.

      The problem is not just captaincy but it is a leadership issue and DC is quite right (at least to a significant extent) to point the finger at the ECB looking at the Ashes timetable as the be all and end all.

  6. Ditching the specialist selector role has made selection too pally – people get picked for non-cricketing reasons or dropped (as with Anderson and Broad) because they know they can take it. The squad is a clique now built around the prejudices of Root and Root alone.

    All that said, I’m not sure he should be ditched as captain. Who would replace him? Broad and Burns are in and out of the squad, Bairstow is too volatile, Buttler is not a red ball player and Stokes has far too much on his plate already. Root is an unimaginative captain and frankly not a very smart man, but he should probably just continue for now until a better candidate comes along. It’s not like it’s massively hurt his batting, despite everything…

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