England v South Africa, 1st Investec Test, Lord's, 3rd day July 8, 2017

Confident Root shows early shoots of a bountiful reign

These are early days in the reign of Root, but the signs are already promising. George Dobell runs the rule over his first three days in charge

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WATCH - Root's 184 not out on the first day

This was very much Joe Root's squad. While it is understood others on the selection panel had differing views in some areas, Root had the confidence to argue for the team he wanted and, after discussion, was backed by the other selectors. Both factors bode well. The decision to play two spinners at Lord's - the first time England had done so at the ground since 1993 - was a surprise. But with the pair of them combining to claim six wickets in South Africa's first innings - only the second time this century England's spinners had taken six wickets in the first innings of a home Test - it was a move that was largely vindicated. The selection of Gary Ballance - especially at No. 3 - remains a little contentious, but he looked secure enough on the third evening and has allowed Root to slip back down to his preferred No. 4 position.

Personal performance
By making a century in his first innings as England captain - not just a century, but the highest score by an England captain in their first innings in the role - Root snuffed out any immediate doubts there may have been about the burden of leadership compromising his run-scoring ability. He had some luck early in the innings - he was dropped on 16 - but he also exhibited a nice mixture of patience and positivity to help his side recover from a potentially precarious position to build an imposing one. In doing so, he not only led by example in terms of results, but in terms of showing how he wants his team to play.

Review use
Root has so far utilised the DRS twice in the field. While the first appeal - Mark Wood's lbw shout against Theunis de Bruyn - was declined, it was only done so on an umpire's call basis. So while England lost one of their reviews, they will not do so in similar circumstances when the new playing regulations are introduced later in the year. The second review - the lbw shout against Keshav Maharaj - turned out to be excellently judged. While Maharaj was well down the pitch and had lunged with a mixture of bat and pad, Root reasoned - and it did appear to be Root who was insistent about using the review - that the ball had struck the pad first and that reviews would prove the ball was going on straight on to hit the stumps. He proved less prophetic when suggesting Ballance review his first-innings dismissal but, in the field at least, he proved astute and decisive.

Root has started impressively here. Despite very little captaincy experience, he has looked both calm and dynamic. Jimmy Anderson praised his use of the bowlers in South Africa's first innings, crediting him with using them in short spells to ensure they remained fresh despite the warm weather. He also praised him for the slightly unusual fielding positions - short mid-on and mid-offs, for example - that eventually resulted in the wicket of Quinton de Kock. Recognising the slowing pace of the pitch, Root placed a man just in front of squad on the off side and he eventually took the catch that ended a dangerous innings.

Joe Root rings the changes on his first day in the field as Test captain © Getty Images

"That was very good field placing," Anderson said. "And it was all Joe's idea." There were some other notable moments: bowling Liam Dawson after lunch on day three was a surprise, but he quickly justified it with the wicket of Maharaj, while the decision to take a bit of pressure off Moeen Ali - both as batsman and bowler - and encourage him to be aggressive appears to have worked well. But Root's willingness not to contrive funkiness was also welcome: England's batting on the third evening - when they scored 119 in 51 overs - was fashion-defyingly obdurate. It was justified, though, as it all but batted South Africa out of the game and was made in the face of some good, sustained bowling. Imaginative when required and persistent when necessary, this has been a remarkably assured start from an unexperienced captain.

Root has seemed impressively unaltered by the responsibilities of captaincy. Despite suffering from a cold, he has remained open and friendly in his media appearances - an important factor for a sport that probably needs to reengage with a section of society that may have been wearied by more cynical England teams - and both relaxed yet focused on the pitch. So while he was able to laugh off the four over-throws conceded by Stuart Broad on the second day, he tinkered with his field regularly to reflect the changing patterns of the game and didn't seem to rely too heavily on any of his senior players for advice or support. He looked, in short, as if he had every confidence in his ability and as if he belonged in the role.

Richie Benaud famously said that captaincy was "90 percent luck and 10 percent skill" and the early signs - the very early signs - are that Root might just have that little bit of fortune he will require. Certainly he is fortunate to have a side with such all-round depth - you could argue that the success of both Mike Brearley and Michael Vaughan was predicated on the presence of top-quality allrounders within their side - and such experienced campaigners as Anderson, Broad and Alastair Cook. Here he also benefited from winning an important toss and a couple of missed chances early in his innings. As Benaud also said, though, "but don't try it without that 10 percent" of skill. Those early signs - those very early signs - suggest Root may have both.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ian on July 10, 2017, 10:09 GMT

    For Root's debut as captain, high marks in what proved to be an ideal Test for his introduction. Not only did the Saffers manage to gift him a marathon personal contribution, they also obliged all the way down the line! Their resistance was like a meringue: a tad hard to the initial touch but easily crumbling into a mess once any pressure was exerted. So, Root's captaincy off to a flier. He could have done no more than he did, but he and his side need - really need - to be put under the cosh by a side that has a will to compete. The irritating thought remains that there are better Saffers playing round the counties, who could field a side that really could give Root's men a run for their money! I'll leave someone else to pick that Kolpac XI, should someone feel inclined to do so!

  • John on July 10, 2017, 2:56 GMT

    There are a couple of laughable comments here. Some people seem to think that George is basing his lasting opinion of Root's captaincy on this game and will ignore whatever comes later. Of course George, like everyone else, will form, refine and possibly change his opinion over time but this game is all there has been so far so this game is all that can be used to form such an opinion at this time. If those commenters want to pretend that they have been able to watch this game without forming an opinion on the subject then they are free to delude themselves if that's what they want to do.

  • David on July 9, 2017, 23:56 GMT

    This series is great preparation for him if the Ashes go ahead as scheduled. By then he will have a better understanding of field placements, how and when to use certain bowlers, his players will know exactly what is expected of them etc. I do think though that placing Stokes in that unorthodox field position was a stroke of brilliance! It's a sign that he has a keen understanding of the game.

  • Cricinfouser on July 9, 2017, 12:41 GMT

    George, will its be a case of something said so soon? I hope England will be able to pull this off for the sake of Joe Root, a devastating loss in a game which they were in command for most parts, would be disastrous to Root's captaincy tenure.

  • Alex on July 9, 2017, 12:08 GMT

    I did n't expect what i said was coming so true. Procession starts once Lead by example root left. I mean if pitch is easy root would be smacking fours, I heard commentators keep saying pitch is good , may be they are watching another game. Pitch has variable bounce like indian bad pitches. But what ever the pitch both team play in same game. I think SA has chance to win this one if they bring a surprise and make dekock open and start counter attack from first ball. Moeen ali will be in business with that footholes. it is easy get fours and dekock smack every one at will. PUnch and counter punch. Lets see SA go all out to win the game or wait for noose tightened. England have weakness dawson and ballance. If SA hit to them they may not field properly. You have to use every advantage you can. ROOT need his bowlers and fielders step up. I see ominious sign but it can go either way depends on makes less mistakes. England don't have much runs so i have to SA have 65% chance to win it.

  •   Cricinfouser on July 9, 2017, 10:05 GMT

    In addition to being a high-class batsman, Joe Root seems to have a naturally positive demeanour - which is a major asset for such a difficult job as being a cricket captain (at any level).

    In this match to date, he was incredibly lucky when batting - he should have gone at 5, and at 16 - and then (albeit, much later) stumped off a front-foot no-ball from a spinner!

    However, if this team is really his personal choice, then he surely has the top order wrong.

    You cannot have three slow-scoring left-handers together at the top, two of whom are nowhere near being established in the team (and so even more cautious).

    Opposition bowling attacks must look at that grouping, and rub their hands with delight!

    One of Jennings or Ballance has to go - or Ballance must go down to 4 (with Root at 3).

    It seems hard to believe that they can't find a better (right-handed) opener than Jennings.

    He might grow into the job eventually, but he should build his basic skills more, in domestic cricket.

  • damian on July 9, 2017, 8:54 GMT

    This makes a pleasant change, George being overly positive about someone (almost too positive). This is what happens when he can't criticise Bairstow's keeping. He's got Ballance in his sights so unless he makes a century today he'll have 2 articles and several digs there to redress the balance

  • timoth2847822 on July 9, 2017, 8:35 GMT

    So English, George! Give him a year and then review his captaincy. My goodness, he has only had two days on the job. Let him have some rough days and see how he handles those. SA has some great cricketers but they are not really playing well together. Let Root captain against a team playing together. Or why not wait till after the Ashes? This first trip will most probably define his captaincy.

  • Cheese on July 9, 2017, 6:00 GMT

    Yes, but it helps when you are dropped 3 times. If chances were taken, he would have been under severe pressure.

  • Peter on July 9, 2017, 3:27 GMT

    Come on George. While I am a fan of Root's and rate him highly, let's not forget the number of lives SAF offered up with poor discipline. If this is repeated by every team that plays England then yes, I would agree with you but do you seriously think other teams will offer up no ball wickets and drop catches with this sort of regularity? Judge performances over a period, not one innings or such a short period. Come on, you are supposed to be experienced in this game of ours!

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