The highs and lows of Joe Root’s England Test captaincy | Cricket News

From the highs of touring South Africa and Sri Lanka to the lows of two Ashes hammerings in Australia, we look at some of the peaks and troughs of Joe Root’s record-breaking reign as England captain; the 31-year-old announced he was stepping down from role on Good Friday

Last Updated: 15/04/22 9:24 am

Joe Root has decided to step down as England captain

Joe Root has decided to step down as England captain

Joe Root has captained England as often as any other man in the history of Test cricket.

Root has recorded more wins as skipper than any of his compatriots (27) but also suffered more defeats (26) and has not yet overseen victory in an Ashes series.

He scored more runs in a calendar year in 2021 than any Englishman ever, yet England lost a record-equalling number of Tests. The paradoxes go on.

After the Yorkshireman announced on Good Friday he was stepping down from the England Test captaincy, we look back at some of the highs and lows …

The highs

South Africa in 2017 – a flying start

England's players celebrate victory over South Africa in the third Test at The Oval in 2017

England’s players celebrate victory over South Africa in the third Test at The Oval in 2017

Root enjoyed instant success as a skipper, both personally and results-wise, after succeeding Sir Alastair Cook in the wake of a drubbing in India. A score of 190 on his captaincy debut – the first Test against South Africa at Lord’s in the summer of 2017 – was the highest of six centuries scored by England captains in their first match in the job. Although he remarked in trademark dry style after a heavy second Test defeat – and a spat with predecessor-turned-pundit Michael Vaughan – that his honeymoon period had been short-lived, back-to-back wins in the remaining Tests gave England a 3 -1 series victory. Root finished with 461 runs – 131 more than his nearest challenger on either side – at an average of 57.62. So far, so excellent.

The feelgood home hammering of India

Root and Alastair Cook at the end of the opener's final Test - a victory over India which sealed a 4-1 series win

Root and Alastair Cook at the end of the opener’s final Test – a victory over India which sealed a 4-1 series win

The optimism of Root’s first summer in charge had been obliterated by a one-sided Ashes tour, defeat in New Zealand and failure to put away Pakistan at home in the early summer schedule. So when Virat Kohli and his top-ranked India side fetched up for a five-Test series in 2018, determined to put up a better show than their recent predecessors had managed in English conditions, home expectations were not exactly high. Despite Kohli’s individual brilliance, England edged a classic Edgbaston opener and recovered from a mid-series hammering in Nottingham to run out 4-1 winners. Root’s own form with the bat fell short of his impeccable standards, but a hundred in the final Test added to the general air of euphoria engendered by Cook’s career-ending ton – predicted by his skipper on the eve of the game – and Jimmy Anderson becoming Test cricket’s most prolific pace bowler.

History made in Sri Lanka

Keaton Jennings and Ben Foakes justified their inclusions for the 2018 tour of Sri Lanka

Keaton Jennings and Ben Foakes justified their inclusions for the 2018 tour of Sri Lanka

Home victories are one thing, but success on the subcontinent is another altogether, and Root had plenty to prove overseas given his away captaincy record ahead of the 2018 Sri Lanka tour read: P7 W0 D2 L5. The inclusion of Ben Foakes and persistence with the maligned Keaton Jennings paid handsome dividends in the first of a three-match series as both scored hundreds in a big win. Root joined the party with an aggressive tone at a key point in the series-clinching second Test, and the rotation of old-stager seamers and a motley crew of spinners was managed with assurance as the skipper became the first Englishman in 55 years to secure a whitewash abroad in a series of three matches or more. “We are not a one-trick pony in our own conditions anymore and that should fill us with a huge amount of confidence going into future tours,” said Root – whose tourists were promptly beaten in the West Indies.

Toughing it out alongside Silverwood in South Africa

Root and coach Chris Silverwood oversaw victory in South Africa in 2019

Root and coach Chris Silverwood oversaw victory in South Africa in 2019

Root’s back was once again firmly against the wall, the Sri Lanka series a distant memory on the back of failure to regain the Ashes at home in the summer of 2019, before the start of his first tour in tandem with new coach Chris Silverwood at the end of the year. A flu bug which ran through the squad like the Aussies through an England tail did nothing to quell the outside noise as the first Test at Centurion ended in defeat. But despite losing Anderson to injury after the second Test, coach and captain coaxed performances from comparative newcomers and stalwarts alike, Ollie Pope, Dom Bess, Mark Wood and – in spite of his father’s health problems – Ben Stokes all contributing heavily to three straight victories and a 3-1 series win. No ton for Root on this occasion, although he did take four wickets while bowling almost a third of England’s overs during the final innings of the third Test. “The sky’s the limit for this team,” was his post-series verdict.

The lows

Failing to land an Ashes blow in 2017

Jonny Bairstow (R) was dismissed during the second Ashes Test in 2017. The England batter had been the center of unwelcome pre-series press attention

Jonny Bairstow (R) was dismissed during the second Ashes Test in 2017. The England batter had been the center of unwelcome pre-series press attention

More-heralded captains than Root have gone to Australia and lost, and as ever there were mitigating circumstances to a 4-0 defeat: Ben Stokes’ off-field problems deprived the skipper of perhaps his one weapon capable of persuading the Aussies to take a backward step, and the build-up to the first Test was dominated by talk of Jonny Bairstow’s’ headbutt “https://www.skysports.com/” friendly greeting “to Cameron Bancroft in a Perth bar – the kind of media-enhanced storm-in-a-schooner Down Under which can nonetheless provide unnecessary distraction for touring Englishmen. But the lack of any real competitive edge to the series, give or take an hour or two under lights in Adelaide and a draw on an MCG featherbed, was dispiriting after Root’s captaincy had begun with back-to-back series wins. The skipper was not even there to see out the series, having been hospitalized while unbeaten on 58 ahead of the final day of the Sydney Test.

Folding in India after fine start

Ravichandran Ashwin tormented England as India won on home soil in 2021 (Pic credit - BCCI)

Ravichandran Ashwin tormented England as India won on home soil in 2021 (Pic credit – BCCI)

Aside from the meek surrender in, admittedly, some of the most challenging conditions Test cricket can offer, the real disappointment of a 3-1 defeat in India last year was how far below England’s recent standards it fell. Root had overseen four straight series wins ahead of the tour, an achievement last managed by the peak-era Andrew Strauss team of 2011. Five straight Test-match wins overseas, meanwhile, was a feat no England side had managed in the previous 100 years until Root’s lot did just that, adding a sixth in the opener against India thanks in no small measure to their captain’s double hundred – a seamless continuation of his form in the previous series against Sri Lanka. But that accounted for comfortably more than half his series runs, and despite being able to call on an attack of no little variety, his own remarkable 5-8 in the second of three subsequent maulings at the expert hands of Ravichandran Ashwin and Co was more eye-catching than anything he could squeeze from his team-mates in the field. England had opportunities in two of those three matches, and Root said: “I do think there have been periods where we’ve found ourselves at parity and India managed to grab them.” The theme would recur …

Undone by India at ‘key moments’ … again

India's Jasprit Bumrah seized one of the 'big moments' England could not in 2021

India’s Jasprit Bumrah seized one of the ‘big moments’ England could not in 2021

The opportunity for Root and England to exact revenge was quick, but morale was hardly helped by defeat to New Zealand in the two-match support act to last summer’s main event, nor by Stokes’ announcement a few days before the first Test he was taking an indefinite break. Root’s stunning year with the bat offered a counterpoint to the negatives, and he duly obliged with tons in three successive Tests to start the series. England won just one of them, an innings victory at Headingley after rain had wrecked hopes of a result in the first, and India had skittled their hosts to take the second. Rohit Sharma’s hundred and a devastating final-day Jasprit Bumrah spell gave them the fourth and a 2-1 lead which proved to be decisive – at least until the rescheduled game has been played this summer – after Covid scuppered the Old Trafford finale. Root was again left to highlight to his players the small margins and big moments had all gone in India’s favor: “Something we’ve got to get better at is recognizing the key moments in games and forcing it a little bit more,” he said , through increasingly gritted teeth.

Abject Ashes – ‘why are you captain?’

Root's second Ashes tour as captain began with three straight defeats, and unprecedented criticism of his captaincy from some

Root’s second Ashes tour as captain began with three straight defeats, and unprecedented criticism of his captaincy from some

Root was back on familiar territory ahead of a second Ashes tour as skipper which he freely admitted would define his captaincy: “I’m not naive enough to think it will not … Grabbing those big moments within the series, I think, is going to be key for us. ” To his and England’s embarrassment, they barely even got to the “big moment” stage as the Ashes were secured by Australia inside 12 days of cricket – a shorter time than the tourists spent quarantining for the series. There were signs of the even-tempered captain’s patience wearing thin as he dared to criticize his grizzled bowlers’ lengths after the second Test, but even this was seized on by his critics as a sign of weakness. “Why are you captain then?” asked Ricky Ponting, who later labeled England the worst-performing tourists he had ever seen in Australia. Even allowing for the home hyperbole which has become as much a part of Ashes tours as Aussie victory parades, it was hard to put up much of an argument. England avoided the dreaded 5-0 sweep with a battling, if weather-assisted, draw in Sydney but did lose 4-0. That chastening result confirmed when they lost 10 second-innings wickets for just 56 runs on the third day of the final Test in Hobart.

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