Kolkata: At a personal level, Joe Root has quite a few good friends in the Indian camp - Cheteshwar Pujara being one of them from his stint together in Yorkshire. However, none of them will be hoping that the England Test captain carries his current form into his 100th Test match - which starts against India in Chennai on Friday.
A survivor of Alastair Cook’s team of 2012 when the visitors had last won a series in India, Root reflected on his journey in an interaction with the media on Thursday. “I think walking out in an England shirt will probably be the proudest moment,” said the fulcrum of England’s Test batting line-up.
“I look back at walking up to bat and see Kevin Pietersen stood at the other end, someone whom I watched as a teenager and a kid growing up. I just couldn’t stop smiling. I was living my childhood dream,” said Root, who made his debut in the fourth Test at Nagpur in 2012.
He added: “If I am ever going through a bit of lean spell or things aren’t quite falling for me then I try and look back at that moment and remember what that feeling was like.”
After his debut, Root was involved in a Birmingham pub brawl in 2013 when he was punched by Australia’s David Warner but he matured to become a batting mainstay and an impressive team leader.
A member of the awesome foursome of himself, Indian counterpart Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson in the debate for being greatest Test batsman, Root had a chequered 2020 when he failed to hit a century but found his touch with innings of 228 and 186 in successive Tests in Sri Lanka last month.
Root has said the Warner incident made him “reassess things” as he turned from team joker to a serious player who concentrates on scoring runs. His match-winning scores in Sri Lanka, as England swept the series, took him to 8,249 runs including 19 hundreds, surpassing England greats Geoffrey Boycott (8,114), Pietersen (8,181) and David Gower (8,231).
Speaking at his pre-match press conference, Kohli paid him lavish tributes: ‘‘A big congratulation to him on playing playing 100 Test matches. He has had a headstart in his career and had been the face of England’s batting for quite a few years. As for the Big Four and all - I think it’s all a creation of the media. His is the vital wicket that we look for in every series.’’
“He has always had a brilliant game against spin bowling. He is one of the best exponents of the sweep shot and he picks length brilliantly which is a big strength when playing against spin,” teammate Jos Buttler said - a quality which is going to come handy against the likes of Ashwin & Co.
“He is in great form and that is a great place for him to be at the start of the year, and for the team to watch him and learn from him,” Buttler added.
Even though England have now won five overseas Tests in a row, their best run for more than 100 years, Root will need all of his guile to take on India on their home turf.
He knows that first-innings runs will be key to any hopes of success. India scored at least 400 in the first innings of all five Tests when they smashed England 4-0 on their last visit in 2016-17.
He is known to have studied the tactics of other England captains who have won in India. And win or lose, he is certain to keep the captain’s job.
Root made his debut days before his 22nd birthday but soon found favour as a regular in the England XI and a probable captaincy prospect.
After taking over when Cook stepped down as Test in 2017, he has led England to 25 Test wins in 46 matches. His 54 percent win rate is second only to Mike Brearley (58.06) among captains who have led the team in 15 or more matches.
England’s new star fast bowler Jofra Archer says it is reassuring to play under Root, who he calls a “great man manager” and “a great person”.