As Alastair Cook continues his climb up the highest-ever run-scorers' list in Test cricket, his lead over his nearest English rival becomes larger and larger. If Cook can stay fit and motivated he can have 15,000 Test runs to his name by the time he calls it a day. It will be an English record that may well stand forever, but there is one current player who may run him close – Joe Root.
Root made his England debut during the last tour of India in 2012, playing the fourth and final Test in Nagpur. While that match was an absolute horror show on a surface that was comfortably the worst pitch on which Test cricket has been played this decade, Root acquitted himself well. There was no pace and hardly any bounce, so it wasn't treacherous to bat on, but painfully slow. Root, just 21-years-old at the time, batted with real composure and patience as he made 73 in the first innings and 20 not out in the second. He had arrived.
Root has only missed one Test since, the final match of the disastrous Ashes tour of 2013-'14 at Sydney when Gary Ballance made his Test debut. That tour of Australia at the end of 2013 and the start of 2014 is the only blip in Root's otherwise illustrious career. Having made his maiden Test hundred in his second Test on home soil in 2013 against New Zealand, it seemed there was no stopping him. But those runs were made in the middle order, and for the Ashes that summer, he was moved up to open, a move that brought a big hundred at Lord's in his second match as an opener but diminishing returns thereafter.
He made 339 runs at an average of 37 as an opener in that 2013 home Ashes, but it was far more failure than success, so much so that a Twitter hashtag was born. So many people were desperate to prove that Root shouldn't have been opening that they started deleting that Lord's score of 180 from his record. #RootMaths - the process by which you exclude a batsman's successes to say they are rubbish.
By the time Root arrived for the second leg of the marathon back-to-back Ashes, he was sent in to bat down the order, at six, for the first Test and then at three for the next three matches. His struggles continued despite the changes of batting position, his only score of note in that series being the 87 he made at Adelaide. By the time he was left out for the final Test at Sydney, it almost made sense when viewed through the prism of that tour which was a three-month long waking nightmare.
By the time England played their next Test against Sri Lanka they had lost their head coach, Andy Flower, and their leading run-scorer in that series, Kevin Pietersen. The shockwaves from that Australian tour are still being felt, but Root has been untroubled by them. He was back in the team for the first Test against Sri Lanka and he has played every match since.
When he was left out of the side in Sydney he had already played 15 Tests, scoring 955 runs at an average of 36.73 with two hundreds and four fifties. Since then he has played 33 more Tests, scoring 3,148 runs at an average of 61.72 with eight hundreds and 19 fifties. He went from being a brilliant prospect to England's best player. And that wasn't just in Test cricket, he is now England's number three batsman in all formats and comfortably their best player in each of them as well. In his very first match after being dropped he scored an undefeated double hundred. Dropping him worked.
In the latest issue of AllOutCricket, Root was asked if he saw his omission from that Sydney Test as a good thing. "Definitely not," Root said. "I just could never look back on being dropped as a good thing. But I do accept it was an important moment. What it did do was give me a kick up the arse and rethink the way I go about my business. That was when I started pushing my strengths and changing that way of thinking and practising definitely helped."
Root has played six Tests against India, that one on debut and five more in the summer of 2014, and had a great deal of success against them. In those six matches he has made 611 runs at an average of 101.83, England will need something similar from him if they are to get anything out of this upcoming series.
He has the game to do well on Indian pitches, he showed that on debut and again at the World T20 earlier this year, but right now there are no challenges greater than facing Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja on home soil.
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