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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Joe Root's captaincy and other talking points ahead of first England-South Africa cricket Test

Ahead of the first Test, which starts at Lord's in London on Thursday, here are some of the talking points before the series opener.

England players Alastair Cook, left, Toby Rowland-Jones, back, Liam Dawson, second back, Jonny Bairstow, second front, and Stuart Broad, bottom, play football during the nets session at Lord's on Wednesday. Nigel French / Press Association
England players Alastair Cook, left, Toby Rowland-Jones, back, Liam Dawson, second back, Jonny Bairstow, second front, and Stuart Broad, bottom, play football during the nets session at Lord's on Wednesday. Nigel French / Press Association

New England taking root

What should Joe Root do? He can ease his way into one of sport's most taxing jobs and take a measured view, for example, of how many more overs there will be together in the coming years from England's record-breaking pace pair James Anderson and Stuart Broad - who have both reported fit for the start of the series.

England's Stuart Broad, right, with James Anderson.
England's Stuart Broad, right, with James Anderson.

Alternatively, he can take a view, make a statement of intent and begin sowing the seeds for change. England are approaching transition, but it does not necessarily need to kick in concurrently with the introduction of a new captain - and the recall of in-form Gary Ballance hints at a touch of conservatism already. The old guard can surely provide both runs and wickets which Root will need. But further change will come soon enough, without making it happen.

Will the Proteas wilt?

South Africa's Dean Elgar.
South Africa's Dean Elgar.

In the heavyweight absences of AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn, it is easy to portray a tourist line-up short of its habitual firepower - despite their run of four series successes and standing at No 2 in the world. Coach Russell Domingo has reapplied for his own job but may yet be embarking on his final series nonetheless, and his hesitation about his future is hardly a reassuring backdrop. Captain Faf du Plessis's return has been delayed after the birth of his first child back home, and Dean Elgar takes charge for the first time instead. All of the above hints at a collective vulnerability, as does South Africa's flaky white-ball campaign this summer. With the ball especially, though, they still have players who can pose England major problems.

Cheerio cheeky chappie?

England's Joe Root.
England's Joe Root.

Will there be a metamorphosis in England's new captain? Root has made clear he wants his England team to play with a smile but grit, too. The cheery chirp has helped to make him the cricketer he is, and he will be unwilling and almost certainly unwise to forsake it. As leader, however, he may just have to tone the act down a little.

Cook's turn to serve again

England's Alastair Cook, left, with Joe Root.
England's Alastair Cook, left, with Joe Root.

It was not difficult to identify a little weariness in Alastair Cook towards the end of his record tenure as captain. He himself conceded on the day of his resignation in February that his captaincy had run its course, and England needed a new voice. That is not to say his will not remain highly significant, too, as a much-needed ally for the new main man, and Cook faces a balancing act between stepping aside generously but still being on hand with the advice and encouragement. England cannot afford him to simply let his bat do the talking.

Time to take guard at last

England cricketers train at Lord's.
England cricketers train at Lord's.

Root is not the only one who has had to put his Test plans on hold for the past six months. England have not been in action since the innings hammering in Chennai which concluded their 4-0 defeat in India. It should be easy enough to cast aside the ravages of the sub-continent for a very different examination of skills to come. Even so, getting back on the horse is never the easiest manoeuvre after setback or inactivity - in this case both, with a new leader for good measure, too, of course.