KEITH ELLIOTT’s pick of the Sportsman of the Year is the Ashes-winning hero who has taken Root at the top of the global Test batting averages
You’ve gotta admit, even his name inspires confidence. Joe. Root.
Fancy bowling at someone with a name like that. You just know you’re in for a tough time.
But he’s not a Boycott, more concerned with setting down roots, boring the bowlers into submission and ensuring his average doesn’t suffer. Joe has often had to play an anchor role so often over the past year, with England batsman after batsman seemingly determined to offer catching practice to the opposition.
And what confidence he has given an England team who many reckoned were in for another 5-0 Ashes pounding.
How many of you confidently bet on England winning the Ashes? Darn few, I’ll bet. And at the heart of that victory was Joseph Edward Root. When wickets were tumbling around him, there was his kid, who looked like Mitchell Johnson’s slipstream would blow him over, radiating huge confidence, looking untroubled against the crimson rambler whizzing past his ear at over 90mph.
Good? He’s exceptional. No argument that he’ll be England captain, sooner rather than later. Best of all, he’s not a one-trick pony. Stick him in a one-day international or a T20, and he can morph into Joe Dasher, a man who can score as quickly as Buttler or Hales with reverse sweeps or classic cover drives. His T20 average is well over 100.
Opposing captains have found to their cost that you can’t set a field to nullify his favourite shots and wait for his scoring rate to slump. He can manoeuvre the ball all round the wicket, meaning that England no longer seem to fall hopelessly behind the asking rate.
Small wonder that at 24, he became only the fourth Englishman to top the world batting averages (the last one was his fellow Yorkshireman Michael Vaughan more than a decade ago), and this in an era when there is a wealth of talent wielding bats hewn by Grizzly Adams.
Ah, but that Ashes series! From Root’s wonderful 124 in the opening match (he knocked up 60 in the second innings as well, in case you’d forgotten) to his breathtaking 130 in the fourth Test, this was a series that you didn’t have to watch from behind the sofa. We’ll gloss over the fifth Test. England were home and hosed by then.
On one occasion, with England a couple of wickets down for not very many, Root strode in and my wife, who became hugely interested in cricket this year (except she keeps asking me to explain the lbw law) said: “Ah. We’ll be all right now.”
Shame we can’t find another half-dozen like him. But players like Root are once in a generation, at least for England.
And doesn’t he look like he’s enjoying it! That broad grin when he notches up a 50 or a century, the confidence to sledge someone who is twice his size (maybe Warner was a bit of a mistake) and he can even bowl a bit. His offspin has nabbed some valuable wickets, and he seems one of the safer England catchers.
Where does he go from here? Well, England should enjoy the benefit of several more years of stirring performances from him. Sell the children and book tickets for Australia 2017 now. Joe Root’s only going to get better. And maybe he’ll win us the World T20 and the ICC Champions Trophy in between.
- Keith Elliott is a former Independent sportswriter and experienced journalism trainer who is the SJA committee’s training officer
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