England ride luck as Root learns ropes
Well, it wasn't always going to be like Lord's was it?
After that dream captaincy debut, Joe Root was made to work much harder at Trent Bridge. And, for a while in mid-afternoon, with two fine batsmen set and South Africa poised on 179 for 2, it looked a challenging role.
We probably didn't learn too much about Root the captain at Lord's. Yes, there were a couple of novel fielding positions. And yes, he seemed encouragingly unperturbed by the baggage that comes with the job. But the game was too one-sided to make many conclusions. He was never really stretched or tested.
But here? Perhaps we had a glimpse of what he may be like. And perhaps he will have learned a little more about his team, too
One thing we can conclude is that there's nothing formulaic about Root. So, just as he was quick to experiment with a couple of unusual fielding positions at Lord's, so he was happy to tinker and vary at Trent Bridge.
Whereas Andrew Strauss' fielding positions and bowling changes could largely be predicted before a day's play started (partly as England were a more ruthless, experienced team under his captaincy), Root utilised different fields for each of his opening bowlers - Stuart Broad had four slips but no gully, for example - and was quick to pass the second new ball to the support seamers when his more experienced men threatened not to make best use of it.
Root seems inclined to be aggressive, too. So, whereas previous England sides might have attempted to 'bowl dry' in mid-afternoon, Root encouraged Ben Stokes and Mark Wood to attack with men out for the hook and, for a while, no mid-off for Stokes. The scorecard shows they went for nearly four an over between them and finished with just the one wicket. But Stokes had Hashim Amla dropped by Alastair Cook at slip and also saw a top-edged hook fall short of the fine-leg fielder. It almost worked.
Root might have learned, though, as his predecessors did, that it is probably healthy to apply some scepticism when Stokes or Broad call for a review. Certainly Stokes' use of one for a leg-before appeal against Amla looked poor on replay: Amla not only hit the ball, but it hit him outside off stump.
It would be easy to claim that Root wasn't strong enough to stand up to Stokes in such a situation. Easy but probably inaccurate.
It would have been hard for any captain to ignore the certainty with which Stokes reacted. It wasn't that Root was persuaded by the vehemence, it was more that he knew Stokes had the best view of the appeal and trusted his convictions. He may be a little less keen on trusting them next time. Equally, though, Stokes will know he is the man who has to take responsibility for the wasted review. He's vice-captain now, after all.
It wasn't so dissimilar with Broad. Replays suggested the ball to Heino Kuhn was flying well over the stumps. While Root, in the slips, might have pointed that out, it is not unreasonable to trust the third-highest wicket-taker in England's Test history to make such a call. Or it shouldn't be. You can be certain Root will be more reluctant next time.
Root's relationship with his two senior bowlers is going to be fascinating to witness. He was still at school when they started playing for England, but the days when he could look up to them as heroes has long gone. Now he has to coax them into one more spell - they bowled 39 overs between them on the first day - when required and pull them out of the attack against their will when necessary.
It is clear that he will turn to Broad and James Anderson in the field whenever he is stuck. After each interval, it was his senior bowlers who were asked to make the breakthrough. And it was after the tea interval, when they switched the ends at which they were bowling for the first time, that Broad made the double breakthrough.
Might he have coaxed them to bowl just a fraction fuller before lunch? The ball moved sharply and carried nicely in conditions about which most seamers would dream, but England could manage only one wicket in the session. While that was, on the whole, down to some masterful defensive batting (Kuhn, in particular, is playing far better than the scorecard indicates), both Anderson and Broad might reflect they may have made the batsmen play just a little more often. It felt like a missed opportunity for England.
Not one delivery in Broad's first six overs would have hit the stumps. And if a batsman feels they can leave a good proportion of deliveries, they are not just at less risk of leg before and bowled dismissals. They are far less likely to be drawn into an edge.
To be fair to Broad, only three balls in his 8 for 15 against Australia here two years would have hit the stumps, either, and that is hailed as one of the great spells. It is a rough tool by which to judge bowling and it may tell us more about the differing qualities of the South Africa and Australia batting than anything else.
But it will be interesting to see if Root feels he can - or even should - make suggestions to two of the most successful bowlers in England's history. Certainly Anderson bowled much better after lunch, when conditions started to improve for batsmen, beating Amla with a couple of beauties. It was intriguing that Root took both men out of the attack after just three relatively unthreatening overs with the second new ball. Neither Wood nor Stokes look ready to step up to take Broad or Anderson's place. Indeed, it feels as if the pressure is released most of the time Wood bowls at present.
Might Root have called upon Moeen Ali earlier? In normal circumstances, you would expect a man who claimed a 10-wicket haul a few days earlier to be called into the attack before the 45th over and before the underwhelming Liam Dawson. But there was precious little in the surface for the spinners and the seamers threatened nearly all day. It seemed a reasonable call from Root. And a sign, too, that he wasn't going to be influenced by expectation or formula.
In truth, England clawed their way back into the game after tea largely through the profligacy of South Africa's batsmen. They were fortunate that Quinton de Kock attempted a footless cut and fortunate that Amla tried an unnecessary hook. But what was it Richie Benaud said about captaincy? Root - and England - will feel they earned that luck.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo