Confident Root shows early shoots of a bountiful reign
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.
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.
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.
"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