x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

England Test debutant Joe Root's approach is well grounded

The young batsman's temperament under pressure against India in Nagpur makes him a bright prospect for the future.

On paper, England picking an uncapped 21 year old to bat in an unfamiliar position in a Test match they must at least draw to win a first series in India since 1985 is not a decision that seems particularly obvious.

But that was what England chose to do when they put in Joe Root for his debut in Nagpur at No 6 in the order, and the Yorkshire batsman, who opens for his county, could have been forgiven for being nervous when he strode to the wicket at 119 for four with his team in a spot of bother on the opening day.

Some 289 minutes and 229 balls later Root was caught and bowled by Piyush Chawla, having grafted a knock of 73 that put England in good stead in the match, which finishes tomorrow. He looks destined for a decent run in the team in the months ahead.

To drop Samit Patel for Root, with Jonny Bairstow, who had batted wonderfully in England's losing effort at Lord's to South Africa in August, being overlooked, was a brave call by England's coaching staff.

So, why Root?

Mental strength is somewhat of an underrated facet in cricket, and sport, in general.

Root's scores in his first two seasons of first-class cricket with Yorkshire were good, but not jaw dropping. However, he had done enough to catch England's attention, fundamentally because of how he conducted himself and his cool temperament.

Many of England's recent players had not had particularly captivating county careers before they made their Test debuts - Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss immediately spring to mind.

What was impressive about Root's first innings as an international cricketer was how he made it look like just another day at the office.

It takes a tough cookie to relish coming out with your team three or four down, not many on the board, men around the bat offering sage advice on your technique, and play your natural game.

England have not always been blessed in this department. In the 1990s, when the going got tough for the English middle order, you could pretty much guarantee that the likes of Graeme Hick, Mark Ramprakash and John Crawley, to name but a few, would get going … back to the pavilion after posting a low score.

Ramprakash, in particular, was an odd case. An exceptional stroke maker, he made hay at county level, and his first-class average when he retired in the summer was 53.14.

His Test average, from 52 matches, was almost half that, at 27.32. It was perplexing to see a man, clearly gifted, toil so much at the top level.

Michael Atherton, the former England captain, wrote about Ramprakash's issues in his autobiography. He recalled that the right-hander was played in a number of positions in an attempt to get the best out of him, be it opener, No 3 or No 6.

Ramprakash, according to Atherton, was always looking for a reason to fail before he had even set foot on the pitch. If he was opening, he could get a good ball early on when the bowlers were fresh, while if he was No 6 he could run out of partners too quickly and have to bat with the tail.

If there was any hint of doubt or nerves in Root, they were well hidden. He looked a natural out there, unperturbed as he frustrated India alongside Matt Prior in a stand of 103 for the sixth wicket.

He is in the early days of his cricketing career, and his stroke-making and shot selection are only going to get better with experience.

But one thing you cannot teach easily is calmness under pressure and Root has demonstrated plenty of that in just one innings, pretty much guaranteeing himself a role in his country's defence of the Ashes against Australia next summer.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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