When England ignominiously failed to get out of the first round in the 2015 edition of Cricket World Cup, it looked a side playing ODI cricket stuck in a time when Y2K was all the rage. After the defeat to Bangladesh that sealed their fate, Ian Bell was the side’s leading run-scorer with 210 runs and that was good enough to be 22nd in the list of most runs scored (his tournament tally would swell to 262 after a consolation win over tournament newbies Afghanistan and he’d finish 27th). Only three recognised English batsmen returned from Down Under striking at more than 90 percent — Jos Buttler, Alex Hales, and Moeen Ali.
A lot of soul searching, fact facing, coaches hiring, philosophy changing and player selecting needed to be done to get out of the mode the limited overs side was in; Eoin Morgan was persisted with as the captain and according to him, they went about reconstituting the side with simple idea that they needed to “be able to post 330-350 (runs)”, and so “to choose guys whose default mode was pure aggression.” They went about identifying “guys with a lot of talent who would fit the mould”.
Brendon McCullum — emcee at Morgan’s wedding — had already revealed the blueprint for ODI success in this era; England revamped their side packing with hitters up and down the order and redefined the 50-over game. In place of plodders like Gary Ballance and Bell, now they had unbridled hitters of the calibre of Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow, an in-form Morgan, the genius of Ben Stokes, and hitting muscle down to nine, ten and jack.
Amidst all this seductive power is the good, old-fashioned batting style of Joe Root. As much as the “new” England is chic, the presence of Root at No 3 allows for a smooth transition from the opening mayhem of Roy and Bairstow (and Hales before that) to the middle-lower order crunchers.
Root, with a career average of 51.32 achieved at a rate of 87 runs per 100 balls, is not exactly anyone’s idea of a power hitter. A little more than 36 percent of his 5800 ODI runs have come in boundaries; 12 percent of his boundary runs via sixes. For comparison, Bairstow scores about 42 percent of runs through boundaries (of which 24 percent came via sixes). Of the top ten run-getters of 2019 World Cup, Root, at No 6 with a tally of 500 runs at a strike of 91.74, has the lowest percentage of runs scored through boundaries (fellow Yorkshireman Bairstow leads the table at nearly 62 percent (strike rate: 97.26). It has been a remarkable world cup for Root to hang with the big boys putting up 500 runs without lagging on the strike rate.
One does not have to look far in this World Cup as to the need for a team of power hitters to have a batsman like Root controlling the innings. West Indies, loaded with players who have made a name in the sport for crushing the life out of a cricket ball, did not have any semblance of rhythm to their innings and duly capitulated when the pressure of a chase and accuracy of bowling rendered them shotless and toothless. They lacked the engine room in the middle order who would focus on rotating the strike without piling up dot balls.
The table above is the record of the top 10 scorers at the 2019 World Cup, showing overall runs and strike rate, non-boundary runs (NBR), non-boundary run strike rate (NBSR) and the ratio of non-boundary runs to boundary runs (NBR/BR). Root is only a fraction of a point behind the master of the modern ODI game Virat Kohli, in terms of the NBSR. It means like Kohli, Root is very adept at scoring runs off deliveries that he does not put away to the boundary, thereby, never really allowing the bowling sides to build any pressure on the English line-up.
To score more than 65 runs off 100 non-boundary deliveries, the batsman needs to have the ability to find gaps and areas in the field to manoeuver the ball to, essentially, a batsman in the classical mould. Root has been the glue that has held the lineup together and allowed the more flamboyant batsmen to — in modern cricket-speak — express themselves. Root has nearly twice as many non-boundary runs as runs from shots to the boundary (see Table below) while no one else in the England top five has shown to be relying as much on non-boundary runs to pile on the scores.
In addition, Root has stitched together five 100-run partnerships as well through the league stage of the tournament, with four different batsmen. He has shown the patience, versatility, and adaptability to quietly put together an impressive World Cup campaign. England would be hoping for this liquid Root to carry on for another two games to erode away the opposition to allow the flair of the rest to win the trophy that has eluded them forever.