In this column last week I was critical of Joe Root’s two dismissals in the Lord’s Test, especially the second inning one when he tried to hook a head-high ball that was going in the direction of second slip and was caught at square-leg. I suggested he was in one-day mode. When I had filed my cope I switched on to the Cricinfo site and saw that he was eight not out at Old Trafford. So I abandoned work and went downstairs to watch him play what proved to be a perfect Test match innings.
This week , speaking at his first club, Sheffield Collegiate, he revealed that, irritated and puzzled by these mistakes, he had consulted England’s batting coach Mark Ramprakash. Ramprakash had perhaps been waiting for such an approach; in Tests in the last twenty four months Root had been dismissed 17 times between 48 and 99, only four times going on to make a hundred. These figures are good, very good, but not good enough for one of his talent.
Ramprakash told him there was nothing wrong with his game; technically it was fine. “But,” he said, “are you sure you are in the right frame of mind to play Test cricket?” Root thought about it, and decided the question was to the point; he was batting in Test matches as if he was playing what is now called white-ball cricket. There are many differences between the different forms of the game. The most important, especially for a top-order batsman, is this: in Test cricket you may have to leave as many balls as you play; early in the innings there is an array of slips waiting to catch an edged shot. In T20 a dot ball is a little victory for the bowler. The 50-over game gives the batsman a little more time to build an innings.
Even so the field-setting influences the way you bat. In T20 and ODIs lots of runs are scored with shots that would cost the batsman his wicket in a Test match – caught in the slips.
So Root realized that Ramprakash had identified the problem, as one of mental attitude, accepted the criticism and scored his highest Test innings, 254.
There are two other interesting things about this exchange between England’s best batsman and the batting coach.
First , Joe Root was immediately recognized as a batsman of the highest class when he came into the England side. Few doubted that he would be a success in Test cricket,but many thought tha, like Alastair Cook he wouldn’t score freely enough to play white-ball cricket for England. It’s testimony to his skill and determination that he is now a star in all three formats.
Second, that it was Mark Ramprakash who pointed out that he might not be in the right frame of mind to play Test cricket isn’t surprising. Ramprakash was the finest English batsman of his generation, technically well-nigh perfect.
He made 114 first-class centuries, but only two of them in Tests. His Test record is much inferior to that of less naturally talented, and less technically able, contemporaries like Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussein.
He suffered from erratic and inconsistent selection that saw him in and out of the England team, his place never secure.
But of course he was out because he failed often. His failure – comparative only, because he actually had a better record against Australia than either Atherton or Hussein – was mental. Never sure of his place, never feeling he was trusted, he put too much pressure on himself.
Now, as England’s coach he knows better than most just how much success in Test cricket depends on mental attitude. The mentality may be wrong for different reasons. Ramprakash was too intense, Root, arguably, too relaxed. Nobody however can speak with more authority than Ramprakash about the importance of getting it right in the head.
Root has great judgement and all the shots. If his head is right he can make hundreds against any attack. He has the ability ,unlike too many English batsmen of recent times, to keep the scoreboard moving by pushing the ball into gaps to take singles. You don’t need to be hitting boundaries to score at more than three runs an over.
Watching his innings at Old Trafford, I was reminded of something Neville Cardus once wrote about one Bradman innings. The Don wasn’t playing many shots. Cardus was just about to write that even Bradman could be kept quiet, when applause drew his attention to the scoreboard, and he saw that the Don had reached his 50 in just over the hour.