England v South Africa, 1st Investec Test, Lord's, 4th day July 9, 2017

Root deflects attention onto team-mates for victorious captaincy debut

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Root's report card: Could it have gone much better?

Joe Root has praised a "fabulous" team performance as he started his reign as England captain in almost perfect fashion at Lord's.

"Everyone has played their part this week," Root said after England completed a crushing 211-run victory. "It might not have been a six-for or a fifty, but there were crucial periods where guys showed character.

"Everything I asked of the lads, they were very open to and responded to it. I wanted us to be proactive, to stay ahead of the game and when there was an opportunity, to take responsibility. Everyone at certain points did that and it's important we continue to do that if we are to take this side forward."

England have already named the same 12-man squad for the second Test at Trent Bridge, which begins on Friday. Barring injury to any of the seamers - and the fact they were barely used in the fourth innings and have an extra day off now suggests they should be fine - an unchanged team is expected. While it would be unusual for England to play two spinners at Trent Bridge, they would argue they are playing only one - Liam Dawson - with Moeen Ali picked as a batsman.

In truth, England's surplus of allrounders - Chris Woakes will be pressing for a recall before the end of the series - leaves them with something close to a luxury position to fill as they see fit. At Lord's, they could have chosen a legspinner, a specialist keeper, another batsman - perhaps a specialist in the top three - or even a match-winning but potentially unreliable seamer such as Mark Footitt.

As things stand, they have chosen to go with Dawson. Though few would claim Dawson is the best spinner in England - he may well not be the best at Hampshire - he offers a good all-round package topped by his ability to offer his captain control in the field, a trait that complements England's seamers, while his presence also alleviates any expectation upon Moeen to fulfill a holding role. It's not ideal and it won't always work as well as this, but as this was the first time two England spinners claimed 14 wickets in a home Test since 1972, it can only be considered a success.

Root credited the presence of his two key allrounders - Moeen and Ben Stokes - for giving his side enviable depth with bat and ball.

"That's the great thing about our top seven," Root said. "We have two really good bowling options with Moeen and Ben and that's a real luxury."

There were two obvious standout performers in England's win: Root and Moeen.

Root's batting was a level above anyone else's in the match. He enjoyed some fortune in scoring his first 20 runs, but he took advantage in ruthless fashion. Before this match, Root had converted only one of his last seven Test half-centuries into a three-figure score but the captaincy seemed to add an edge to his game: a hunger; a determination to push on and register a match-defining total. While he modestly referred to his form as "nice" afterwards, it is telling that Moeen was the only other man in the match to reach 70.

The statistics relating to Moeen are staggering. Having reached the double milestone of 100 wickets and 2000 runs in fewer Tests than Sir Garry Sobers, et al, on the second day of this match, he subsequently claimed the first 10-wicket haul by an England spinner at Lord's since Derek Underwood in 1974 and the first by an England offspinner since Roy Tattersall in 1951. He also became the first England player to claim a 10-wicket haul and score a 50 in the same Test since Ian Botham in 1980. While Shane Warne was never able to earn a place on the Lord's honours boards, Moeen - who has often been referred to as a part-time bowler by Warne - now does.

These are great names and significant achievements. While nobody - least of all Moeen himself - would claim he was a spinner in the class of Underwood or Warne, or an allrounder in the class of Botham or Sobers, he has developed into a very valuable player nevertheless. The bowling average has moved below 40, the batting above 35 and there's no reason why they should not continue to improve.

Liam Dawson may not be the best spinner in England, but fills a key holding role for Joe Root's England side to balance the bowling unit © Getty Images

Here, partly as a result of his work with Saqlain Mushtaq - for whom he dedicated this performance - he showed ever more cunning in his variations of pace. The delivery which bowled Temba Bavuma was significantly quicker than those that preceded it. At one stage, he threatened to equal Wasim Akram's record of a wicket in six consecutive overs before falling one short.

Rather typically, he described some of the attention surrounding his achievements as "embarrassing", though he did concede that the match represented "the best all-round performance of my career."

"Maybe in India I was trying to fire the ball in a bit," Moeen said. "I learned a lot from that tour. My natural pace is quite quick anyway. Here I had a different mindset and I was trying to attack the batsmen more. It's nice to do this at Lord's. It means a lot."

There were other important contributions. Jonny Bairstow's second-innings half-century shut South Africa out of the match, while some of his keeping was outstanding. The diving take down the leg side to dismiss Heino Kuhn was the most eye-catching moment, but the wicket of Kagiso Rabada - an edge held off an attempted cut - was impressive too. The hard work he has undertaken with Bruce French and others is clearly starting to pay off. A debut for Ben Foakes, which really might have been quite close a week or so ago, suddenly looks distant.

And, as 19 wickets fell on the fourth day, the value of England's obdurate batting the previous evening became more apparent. Alastair Cook, one of only two men to reach 35 in the third and fourth innings, made the most valuable contribution. But Gary Ballance's second-innings 34 and Keaton Jennings' 33 were worth more than a quick glance at the scorecard might suggest. Root reckoned they were "worth double."

There is a caveat to all this. South Africa, it has to be said, made some basic mistakes with their catching, their use of the DRS, the over-stepping of the bowlers resulting in no balls and, most of all, their batting against spin. It is improbable they will play as badly at Trent Bridge.

But this was pretty much a perfect start for Root and his team.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jay on July 11, 2017, 20:16 GMT

    So ENG get to remain cozy in their own conditions. This is why test cricket is so boring. Too much home advantage is not good. Time for neutral tests ICC ? Or scrap the "ancient" format all together... even better.

  • David on July 10, 2017, 17:32 GMT

    It wasn't as good a performance as is being made out to be - if Root was caught early on in first innings ENG would have been all out for c200, and would probably have ended up losing. The top order aside from Root was non existent in the first innings. The pitch was also sub-par for a Lords wicket and contributed to the result. This ENG side is far from convincing and will have some sterner exams ahead of them....

  • Richard Bond on July 10, 2017, 16:59 GMT

    Well played Root

  • Rimtu on July 10, 2017, 16:27 GMT

    It is no surprise to me that spinners shown under Root and my expectations are that they will continue to shine under Root's captaincy. Root himself is a highly effective partnership breaking part-time spinner and he knows how to get the best out of his spinner. Him being a great batsman also helps with his thought process on how to attack the opposing batsmen whom he can read well in terms of their weakness and strength. I think England will see many success under Root's captaincy, and he might be the first genuine captain England has had in a while.

  • Jason on July 10, 2017, 15:07 GMT

    It wont all be plain sailing for Root as captain and I felt that he could have had a couple more close fielders at times to cramp the new batsman, but hes still learning this was I think only the second game he has captained.

    I wonder if a little shuffle of 5,6,7 might make things a little more stable.

    It will be interesting to see how TB plays with his traditional high water table thanks to the river, and whether it will be a traditional Seamers paradise or if the dry weather has created another dryer than normal pitch.

  • exelby4684110 on July 10, 2017, 14:45 GMT

    graham gooch and eddie hemmings.

  • Pundit on July 10, 2017, 14:42 GMT

    Was the pitch at Lords ok? I have to ask this just in case it did not suit England. I guess only when you loose the pitch comes into,play. This Lords turned more than Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, where people,think balls turn from day 1. This assumption comes because Engalnd loose there. Any way good,performance from Engalnd and Moeen A

  • kendal6601268 on July 10, 2017, 14:42 GMT

    @BumsOnSeats: as a South African I can only say quite right. England simply played the better cricket. Not our strongest team, but you can only play the lot in front of you. No excuses. As for the golfing quote, I have seen it attributed to many people (Gary Player, Arnold Palmer etc. etc.) but never Faldo! One of those maxims that everyone wants to claim it seems.

  • Ray on July 10, 2017, 13:51 GMT

    @ALEXK400: Based on the Chinese zodiac, who should England pick for Trent Bridge?

  • Danny on July 10, 2017, 13:44 GMT

    While it would be unusual for England to play two spinners at Trent Bridge, they would argue they are playing only one - Liam Dawson - with Moeen Ali picked as a batsman.

    Hahahahahaha Moeen has been our first choice spinner for ages.

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