Welcome to Tuesday Team Talk. Every week, the H+K Sports team will give a unique perspective on the stories making the headlines across the world of sport.
For what has been a tricky and unforgiving final year as England captain, Alistair Cook can now look back at what he has achieved with the utmost pride. During his tenure, he has become England’s all-time leading run scorer and has led them in more Test matches than any other. Both are incredible feats considering what he has endured in his time at the helm, but are we surprised? In Cook, there is a player who boasts monstrous application and a stubborn streak for scoring runs. He is also capable, as we have witnessed, of taking the punches, getting back up, dusting himself down and moving forward, even when his most loyal of followers thought he was down and out.
Off the field, Cook, the traditionalist, has had some equally testing challenges to overcome. His inevitable move into the hot seat came not only with huge expectation, but he also had to contend with a fast-evolving media landscape. These days it’s not just the good old boys over at Test Match Special, or the purists at The Times, he’s also had the millions of critics out there on social media to negotiate. Rather shrewdly, and quite naturally, Captain Cook calmly steered clear of the turbulent social media world. This has undoubtedly prolonged his captaincy, and will surely have the same effect on his playing career. How different English cricket might look had Kevin Pietersen shown the same discipline.
Cricket as a spectacle too has evolved. We now have a breed of captains who take on the role of the aggressor, in all formats. Gone are the days of attritional five-day cricket (sorry, Straussy), and you wouldn’t be a fool to think that this has been a contributing factor to England’s reshuffle at the top. Root was always the standout candidate and in England’s latest appointment, they have a busy, hungry and extremely talented young cricketer.
Other names were thrown whimsically into the hat, but after establishing himself in the side in 2012, the feeling was that the job would be his sooner or later. Many thought the ECB would opt for a more experienced member of the Test side, namely Stuart Broad, and there are factors that support this argument. In Broad, England have a talismanic figure, who purely focuses on the long form of the game, but you do feel it would have been nothing more than a stop-gap. The popular and right decision was to give young Joe the chance to express himself, but like Cook, he will be expected to hit the ground running.
Such are the demands of the modern day cricketer, Root now faces two-thirds of the next year away from a family that includes a new-born son, and as fickle as they are, the English media will do well to remember the sacrifice he is making. Encounters with South Africa and the West Indies make for a captivating summer of cricket, before facing a hungry Australian side down under. The Ashes will create the perfect platform for England’s new leader to make an impression. He will also relish the opportunity to pit his wits against another young, ambitious captain in Steve Smith, who found himself in a distinctly similar position in 2014.
On the topic of Yorkshiremen, Root is the latest of ten to take on the mantle and his more recent predecessors will be closely monitoring his progress. The most successful of them, Michael Vaughan, who can boast more Test victories as England captain (26) than anyone, is clearly a mentor for Root. Interestingly, both of them have succeeded captains from Essex (the other being Nasser Hussain) at a time when there was a plea for a fresh approach.
Almost as predictably, Ben Stokes was selected as Vice-Captain to complete a very exciting pairing. They both came through the ranks of their Counties’ Academies, both played Under-15s, Under-17s, then came England Under-19s, before they both entered County First Class Cricket. Next up was the Lions, and unsurprisingly into the senior England team where they have now taken on these leadership roles.
For Root, playing in the way he does across all formats of the game will undoubtedly form obstacles throughout his time as Captain. But, arguably it’s his ability to learn and adapt that has landed him this opportunity. As England’s premier batsman, he will shoulder a large portion of the pressure, but it’s not an impossible task. Right now we’re seeing Virat Kohli master the challenge with aplomb, and if Root can emulate the Indian in any way, followers of English cricket won’t want to miss a moment.