England v South Africa, 2nd Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 1st day July 14, 2017

England ride luck as Root learns ropes

Things were never going to be as easy as Lord's but Joe Root looked up to the demands of captaincy as England battled in the field

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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.

Stuart Broad made the breakthrough for England but not until having wasted a review © Getty Images

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ian on July 15, 2017, 8:02 GMT

    If you give Broad *any*review opportunity then everyone knows that he can no more refuse it than an alcoholic can refuse a top-up, whether he's batting or bowling; if a review is left he'll have it! Stokes is also a player that believes in his own infallibility; it's part of who he is. He's also very likely to burn reviews in the light of that self-knowledge! Root, the young and inexperienced captain, therefore needs to use an intermediary to prevent these two forceful characters from taking reviews into their own hands. If SB and BS are told that neither will get their demands for the asking from here on: it's the right moment for Joe to put his foot down. The intermediary has to be Bairstow, for obvious reasons. Memo: to everyone in general (and SB & BS in particular): All reviews will be subject to the keeper who will inform Joe of his opinion. Only the captain will make the T signal to the umpire. It would be a very legitimate and non-personal method of JR exerting his authority.

  • j on July 15, 2017, 7:25 GMT

    You have to love wood for his enthusiasm but I just don't see how he is going to take clusters of wickets at this level unless he is on a super fast track in Australia where he might frighten some people. In the shorter form he can be deadly of course with batsmen looking to attack every ball. Ha played a lot of white ball cricket and the skills are different. Realistically woakes is this far the only one who looks like he can step up once Anderson and broad stop. England might be tempted to look at the much younger generation to see if there is anyone they can groom as a successor

  • Jose on July 15, 2017, 0:41 GMT

    I was trying to read between the lines.

    And, beyond Joe Root. And, his 'baby steps' in his new role.

    As a few pointers seem to leak from this report.

    Despite donning the new garb of aggression, England still carry some of the old world traits. Like respecting experience, seniority, pulling ranks (or allowed to be pulled). These are the old-world values of respecting traditions.

    I could see a little battle between "Traditions" Vs "Experimentation" in the mind of the bright young & brand new captain. Wishing him well in having a bit more of the latter, since that is the only way, you can develope a "competitive edge" over the otherteams, who are also well schooled in the rules, processes, and the supposed to be the do's & don'ts, as we all had seen & believed, ever since we started following this beautiful game.

  • Alex on July 14, 2017, 23:30 GMT

    I am going to burst this bubble now. learn this people. things coagulate. same kind group together in this universe for its own security and survival. Some time this process takes time. Root is honeymoon period so what ever he does may look novel because its the beginning. it will be a mistake when team loses. No country mastered the art of correct player as captain. I mean if there is holy grail to find this automatic , see the power in that person. One of the thing about humanity is imperfection. We should appreciate it. if everything is perfect life would be boring. Everything has its age. Root will lose his captaincy within 3 year. I mean he get bored of criticism. ofcourse you can't see it from now because we can only see what in front of us or future. I do see things through people energy balance. We adjust our beliefs as we learn but there is no adjusting with energy center. You either like it or don't like it. I can't write about player or cricket if every one is perfect.

  • Shay on July 14, 2017, 22:04 GMT

    Im a saffer. This editorial utterly irrelevant and 3 tests too early. It was a standard Day 1 with good battles. Nothing testing on Captain or any real decision making.

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