So, after being at the helm for a torrid spell of English Cricket, not seen since the days of the late 1980s, Joe Root has stepped down as the captain of the England Men’s Test team, a role he has had since 2017.
Root’s captaincy has been a series of interesting contrasts. It is impossible to ignore his growth into a generational talent with the bat. Often a criticism of captains is that the leadership of the team compromises the player, but this cannot be said for Root. 5290 runs at an average of 47.23 is a good CAREER for some players, but this, coupled with the 1,708 runs scored in the calendar year of 2021 are standout statistics of individual brilliance in his time as captain.
But as Root has grown, the rest of the team appears to have shrunk. One test series win in the last five. Two trips to Australia with no wins and eight defeats to show for the efforts. Criticism from all sides and shores about a failure of dynamism, of grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck. A seemingly increasing willingness to captain to avoid loss, rather than to win the game.
While Root has been captain, England, as a team, has averaged 29.10 per wicket. During the 92 completed innings, England passed 400 a grand total of nine times, and as we all saw, there was no total of over 300 whilst on the latest trip down under.
Now, nowhere near all of this is Root’s fault. Currently, as I write this, England Cricket has just appointed Rob Key as Men’s Managing Director but there is still no Head Coach, whom in a traditional sense, would have to be appointed, so that their captain could be installed.
Currently, the consensus opinions of successors to Root appear to be an ageing all-rounder and a bowler who was surplus to requirements in the West Indies series. This summer, there are 7 tests (3 v NZ and South Africa plus 1 test v India). Are you going to expect Stokes to be able to go for all of them? If not, then using our tried and tested methods, he’s out. You could expect Broad to play, but that seems to go against modern day thinking about the workload of pace bowlers. So, he would be out too.
Root has described the role itself as ‘the pinnacle of English cricket’, but isn’t the England Test captain’s job the one that least resembles our collective idea of being a cricket captain?
Or let me put it another way. What value to the Test team do you think the captain adds?
So, my idea is that there is no permanent successor, no permanent Test captain. In a world of squad rotation and rest, why not simply pick your XI, and then pick your captain from that XI?
This is not to denigrate the role. I am not saying that there should not be captains at all grass root levels of play. For many of you reading this, the club captain is responsible for so much in terms of playing, preparation and social aspects of the club, but for England, especially now in the modern era, this is all taken care of by someone else. At the highest levels of the game, captaincy is now not a one-person job.
There is a phalanx of analysts with computers devising the optimal strategy for every batter and bowler to be faced. Every strength and weakness known and discussed. From a high-level strategy point of view, there is little for the captain to add. To some degree this also takes care of field placing, but even on the field, the placing of fielders is a collaborative exercise, with some captains abdicating responsibility to senior bowlers.
What does this leave the test captain to do? Decide on bowling changes? Maybe, but I feel this is also sometimes orchestrated from a mix of a committee of senior players and the balcony. DRS reviews? These are always mass conference sessions, with bowlers and fielders getting 15 seconds to bully the captain. Kohli may have been a successful captain, but DRS reviews didn’t have a lot to do with it.
Maybe there is a point to be made that the idea of the captain being a motivational position. A figurehead. But do you think that Kohli is less demonstrative, less talkative in the dressing room and the field than he was as the main man?
In this modern era, maybe we need a modern approach to captaincy.