Joe Root’s lean patch: Of late, England captain Joe Root is undergoing a lean patch in Test cricket by his standards.
Rewinding the clock back by just over a year to August 19, 2017, one can visualize the English players celebrating a massive victory (by an innings and 209 runs) against West Indies in the first Test of the three-test series at Birmingham. Having registered a 3-1 victory over South Africa at home less than two weeks ago, England deserved to celebrate another dominating Test victory.
Another reason for the Englishmen to celebrate was that of former captain Alastair Cook had scoring a century (a Man-of-the-Match 243) after more than a year. In a 248-run partnership with Joe Root, the former captain in Cook had witnessed England’s new captain scoring his 13th Test century, 136 (189), with the help of 22 fours. Having become the sixth English cricketer to score a century on captaincy debut (190 against South Africa at Lord’s), this was Root’s second century in five matches as England’s Test captain.
Post the match against West Indies, Root’s test numbers stood at 5,191 runs in 58 matches at an average of 54.07 and a strike rate of 56.17. That being said, what followed was astonishing for some and disappointing for the others. Little did Root, the English team or their followers know that the former would have to toil hard to score another Test century.
From the second Test against West Indies to the recently concluded match against India at Southampton, Root has played 15 Tests, scoring 963 runs at an average of 38.52 and a strike rate of 49.61. Not that these numbers are abysmal but then, they are also not the numbers which you would associate with one of the best batsman in the world. Following this lean patch, Root’s Test average has dropped to 50.85.
In this period of just over a year, Root has scored 11 half-centuries in 25 innings which means that he is getting those starts but is failing at converting them into substantial scores. Had it been any other player, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference but then being Joe Root isn’t that easy. As one of the top-tier batsmen across the globe, expectations are bound to occur.
Since making his Test debut in December 2012 (against India at Nagpur), this is the first time that Root hasn’t made a Test century in more than a year. If he scores a century tomorrow, he would have scored it after 386 days. His previous longest period without a Test century was between his second and third Test century when he scored the latter after 329 days. However, Root had only played nine Test matches between that period. Batting at Lord’s, he had defied the odds to score his maiden double century (against Sri Lanka) back then.
In this stretch, Root has played at Home, in Australia and in New Zealand, scoring 59, 72, 1, 15, 51, 9, 67, 20, 14, 61, 83, 58*, 0, 51, 37, 54, 4, 68, 45, 80, 14, 19, 16, 13, 4 and 48. The fact that he has touched or crossed the 20-run mark 15 out of 26 times further suggests that he has failed to bank on his starts. Barring the 58* against Australia at Sydney when he had retired ill and two run-outs, Root has predominantly got out to fast bowlers (20 out of 23 times).
Diving into his mode of dismissals, one comes across the fact that he has been mostly caught behind the wickets (including the slips and gully fielder) in this period. Out of the 23 times that Root has got out to bowlers, 14 have been catches taken behind the wickets. In those 14 times, he has got out while driving as many as seven times. The next on the line is Root being found wanting in front of the stumps (five times), out of which thrice he has fell across to a ball coming in.
Given the great players that they are, both Root and Virat Kohli have been compared numerous times by fans across the world. If some of them claim Kohli to be a better ODI batsman than Root, the other advocate for Root being better than Kohli in Tests. In comparison to Root, Kohli undoubtedly took a bit more time in making a mark in cricket’s ancestral format.
The highest duration that Kohli has remained without a Test century is 343 days. In the six matches and 10 innings that Kohli had played during that period, he had scored 327 runs at an average of 32.70 and a strike rate of 51.41. It had happened between his 11th and 12th Test century. Seemingly, even Kohli had broken his scanty patch by scoring his maiden double century against West Indies at North Sound. Coincidentally, just as Root, Kohli had also scored an exact 200 in his comeback-sort-of-innings.
Having said that, Kohli’s form since his double century has been unbelievable as the modern maestro has scored a quintet of double centuries since then. Talking specifically about the period where Root has looked commonplace in Test cricket, Kohli has scored 1,440 runs in 10 Test matches at an average of 80 and a strike rate of 66.32, including six centuries. It also signifies Kohli being better than Root in Test cricket, at least in the last year or so. These numbers are likely to aid the argument of people on Kohli’s side in the Kohli vs Root debate.
If there is one facet of the game which Root can learn from Kohli, it is regarding improving his conversion rate. In the 70 Test matches that Kohli has played, he has scored 23 centuries and 19 half-centuries. On the other hand, in 73 attempts, Root has scored 13 centuries and 41 half-centuries. If Root doesn’t improve on these numbers in the future, it might well be the difference between both the players at the time of their respective retirements.
Just as Root stepped up the gas in 2014 at Lord’s (against Sri Lanka), whether he will stand tall to hit another comeback hundred tomorrow, only time will tell. Because this Test at The Oval would be the last for Alastair Cook, the English fans would be hoping for a role reversal of the Test match at Birmingham (against West Indies) last year. In which will be a dream-come-true moment for them, it will bring back Root to his usual ways and be an archetype adieu for Cook.