To slightly adapt the start to A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, the last 12 months or so have represented both the best of times and the worst of times for the England cricket captain Joe Root.
There was a similar feeding frenzy around Boris Johnson over Partygate but the British Prime Minister appears to have been saved — at least for the foreseeable future — by President Putin’s decision to launch an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Root managed to stay on as England skipper following the 4-0 Ashes defeat in Australia. But following the 1-0 defeat to the West Indies, Sir Geoffrey Boycott, Michael Vaughan, Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain have all called on him to step down.
“Quite honestly, it is obvious to me there needs to be big changes,” Boycott summed up.
Root’s personal situation is rather different from that of Virat Kohli, with whom he is often compared. The conventional wisdom is that the burdens of captaincy can affect batting form. In recent times, Kohli has struggled to make big scores, whereas Root appears to have been in the form of his life.
Even during the just concluded tour of the West Indies, Root made 109 in the first Test which was drawn. In the second, which was also drawn, he made 153.
In 2021, he was prolific. In 15 Tests, he scored 1708 runs with six centuries. A couple of them were double centuries. In his 100th Test, at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai, in February 2021, he made 218. England won by 227 runs — quite a feat to beat India in India.
Only two others players have made more Test runs in a calendar year — Pakistan’s Mohammad Yousuf scored 1,788 in 2006, while West Indian legend Viv Richards made 1,710 in 1976.
Yet, England’s big name cricket writers have now all turned against Root. It is nothing personal, they say, but for the good of English cricket, Root must go.
It is to Root’s credit that he has remained dignified at all times. On Sunday he said he wanted to carry on.
“I feel there’s the support of the dressing room behind me,” Root said.
“I know this is a results-based business but it does not feel like we are far away. That’s an easy thing to say, but I’m passionate about taking it forward and hopefully that will be the case.”
He accepted that a new managing director of cricket, expected to be in place in mid-to-late-April, may have different ideas about the captaincy.
“Let’s see what happens,” Root said. “It’s out of my control. All that I can control is what’s in my power and I will do whatever I can to help England.”
The betting is that Ben Stokes is the best man to succeed Root.
In the Daily Telegraph, Michael Vaughan said: “Joe is without question the best role model England cricket has in terms of how he bats, prepares and carries himself……But his captaincy has not been good enough. There has been some good stuff. He has scored a lot of runs and that is rare for captains. But there has been a lot of bad stuff too. Tactically he consistently misses a trick.”
Vaughan recalled his own experience: “I knew in 2008 at the start of that summer that I would stand down. As England captain you just know when your race is run. Joe has to ask himself if he has the energy to drive himself for the next year and a half. Are the team listening? The evidence suggests not.”
There was no comfort for Root in Michael Atherton’s piece in The Times: “West Indies v England: Defeat makes
Joe Root’s captaincy untenable — it’s time to end the delusion.”
“Joe Root, meanwhile, this likeable man and brilliant batsman, cut a sorry figure at first slip as the game came to its close, tinkering with the field though the cause was lost, fiddling as his captaincy burnt,” wrote Atherton.
“As (Kraigg) Brathwaite celebrated, Root collected the fielding helmet from behind the stumps and walked off, lonely in his thoughts. He will have contrasting memories of this beautiful Spice Island: the previous time he came here, seven years ago, he scored a magnificent hundred, contributing to a fine England win; now this tiny cricketing outpost is likely to bring an end to his captaincy, even though, in the immediate aftermath of another heavy defeat, he was not willing to accept the obvious.
“As was obvious to anyone who was in Australia, and should have been obvious to anyone who wasn’t, Root has reached the end of the road as captain. A change will not cure all ills — this is a poor team and England are paying the price for the neglect of the first-class game — but there simply comes a time when a captain has nothing new to say, no new methods of motivating his players and a different voice or different style is required.”