Cricket: Joe Root, England selection carousel's cruel casualty
As the English Ashes debacle wore on and the disaster continued to unravel, Joe Root became a casualty in the desperate selection merry-go-round. England’s continued mistreatment of one of their young stars has been one the cruellest symptoms of their continued plummet to new depths. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
Over the course of the next few days and perhaps weeks, the England think-tank will sit down and try to decipher where it all went so horribly wrong that they were hammered 5-0 by Australia in the Ashes. There will be many answers, but England will do well to keep in mind how their mistreatment of young players has been a blight on creating harmony in the squad. One player who has been particularly mistreated is Joe Root.
Root, a promising young talent, as the cliché goes, has been one of the cruellest casualties of a system which cannot decide how it wants to plan for the future. When Andrew Strauss retired, following South Africa’s tour of England in 2012, it was all aboard their panic stations as England tried to find a new opener. Nick Compton was handed that task and made his debut against India in India a few months later.
He looked scratchy for most of it, but eventually managed a gritty 57 in Kolkata. On England's tour to New Zealand, he came good and scored two hundreds. He was one of just three players to manage a ton and one of just three to average above 40.00. Following that though, Compton struggled, as players sometimes do, and by the time the Ashes in England came around, he was no longer wanted.
Meanwhile, Root had made a quiet debut and pottered along in the middle order, although nobody could decide where exactly they wanted him to bat. He was shoved from six to four to five, with zero consistency and stability, but still managed to perform, even scoring his debut hundred after just six Tests.
Root played more internationals across all formats than any other player for England last year. The 23-year old played 37 matches in 2013 with the second-most going to Ian Bell and Alastair Cook, who both played 30.
Root had done enough to secure his place for the Ashes squad and with Compton now discarded, he was the next choice as opener. (He does so for Yorkshire where he plays county cricket, after all.) Against a good Australian attack and having not had the luxury of batting comforts that are afforded to senior players, Root struggled in his new role for the first few innings, but scored 180 at Lord’s.
A few blips followed but still he ended the Ashes in England with 68 in the final Tests as England wrapped up a 3-0 series win and very few questions were asked about how good they actually were before they were due to head off to Australia for round two.
In Australia selectors once again resumed their selection carousel, moved Root down the order to six for the first Test, then elevated him to three following the departure of Jonathan Trott due to a stress related condition and, for the final Test, dropped him. Even though Root had not done any worse than any of the other players on tour, he was a knee-jerk casualty in a system that has completely forgotten what it takes to build a team, build unity, comfort and plan for the future.
If selectors and team management cannot show faith in a player, how is that player supposed to believe in himself, even if management is continuously telling him that he’s part of their plans?
Confidence is a funny thing and it manifests itself in the strangest of ways in the simplest of cases. When you give your all for your team, there is only so much of being messed around one can take before your shoulders drop and you start to wonder what more you have to do.
For a rookie, fresh into international cricket, Root has made more than his share of sacrifices and commitments to team England, yet, he ended being a pawn in a game of chess which went very, very wrong.
When so much is asked of a player, selectors and team management need to show consistency and they need to make the sacrifice as easy as possible for the player in question. With Root, England have not showed any inclination to make things easy for him and dropping him for the final Ashes Test in Australia was a slap in his face.
He’s not the only player, of course. Many of England’s squad members got the cold shoulder for most of the tour and some, like Steven Finn, spent the last two months doing very little after being included in the squad for the exact purpose of them being more suited to Australian conditions. Despite 18 different players being used on the tour, Finn never got a sniff and nobody would blame him if he was feeling a touch bitter and frustrated.
Although comfort breeds complacency, consistency in cricket is key. While these are international sportsmen who should be adaptable with whatever is thrown at them, but asking for adaptability is a luxury that only comes when there is mutual respect. From the outside looking in, it seems like there is none for some players.
At Andy Flower’s press conference post the debacle he reiterated that “players like Root and Finn are very much part of the England cricket future”. That might very well be true, England have a long home summer to plan for with a Test series against Sri Lanka and India to think about.
Their brains trust will do well to remember that they are lucky that international cricket subscribes so heavily to nationalistic rules. If this were club sport, players like Root and Finn would have been offered better opportunities ages ago already and nobody would have blamed them if they upped and left. DM
Photo: England's Joe Root reacts as he walks off the field after his dismissal during the second day of the third Ashes test cricket match against Australia at the WACA ground in Perth December 14, 2013. (REUTERS/David Gray)