England batsmen look to follow Joe Root’s Sri Lanka template
It was eight winters ago when a fresh-faced Joe Root made his international debut with a 73 in Nagpur. Alongside the likes of Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen, the current England captain was then part of a rare 2-1 Test series win in India.
Since that tour, Root has grown in stature to be considered among the top four batsmen of the current era, along with India captain Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson. A string of low scores in the last couple of years though saw Root lose ground.
But right before the Test series in India, back after a historic series triumph in Australia, Root has warmed up with 228 and 186 in the 2-0 series win in Sri Lanka. Those big runs have boosted team confidence going up against India, England wicketkeeper Jos Buttler said in a virtual media interaction on Saturday.
“Joe was in fantastic form in Sri Lanka, he has always had a brilliant game to play spin bowling. He is one of the best exponents of the sweep shot and picks length brilliantly. It is a big strength when playing against spin. He is very hard to bowl dot balls at, has so many options to score. He scores quickly against spin and manages to rotate strike.
“He did that fantastically well in Sri Lanka. The biggest thing about him was the hunger to bat for long periods. He showed great application mentally, physically and tactically to bat for so long in two years. He is in great form and it is a great place for him to be at just at the start of the year.”
Root’s average in 99 Tests is 49.39, with a tally of 8,249; against India, it goes up to 56.84 with 1,421 runs in 16 Tests. The average is higher only against Sri Lanka (58.88) and the tally is better only versus Australia (1,694 runs in 24 Tests).
In India, Root has scored 584 runs in six Tests, averaging 53.09. Among the teams against whom he has played at least six Tests on their home turf, the average is second highest (after 53.50 in the West Indies). It all started with the fourth Test in England’s 2012 tour of India.
“Joe made his debut on that tour. He does have fond memories and learnings about why that England team did well and how they were successful. That was one of the best England teams we have ever had, so it was quite amazing,” Buttler said.
“This side is in a little but different stage in our journey. We certainly are getting towards a stage where we can achieve great things. It is an exciting time for us to take this challenge. India are currently the best team in the world in their own conditions. They have fantastic players for the playing conditions here.”
Putting up big scores and batting for longer periods will be the key to control the game in India, says Buttler, who will return home after the first Test in Chennai starting on February 5.
“Adapting to conditions and playing accordingly will be the key. In England, at times the ball seams and swings and the first innings score can be 300. In India, on a fantastic batting wicket for the first two days, a good score can be 600-650. Realisation and understanding as a batting team will be important; hunger to go and score big runs. Root is a fantastic example with the way he played in Sri Lanka. Conditions can be same here, like in Chennai.
“He just showed how to make the most of the first innings and scored big in both the Tests in Sri Lanka. We played here in Chennai four-five years ago when we scored about 470 in the first innings and India scored 700. It was a great education about what is a big first innings score in India.”
England’s strategy though will not just be centered on Root.
“Jofra Archer is certainly an X-factor player; it is fantastic to have Jofra back. He would be excited to have a big series in India. We have a few guys who can do quite amazing things with the ball. Stuart Broad and James Anderson are two of the best seam bowlers to play the game and Ben Stokes is a pretty good X-factor player as well,” Buttler said.
The pandemic situation and bio-bubbles in which the players are forced be in means it is not possible to feature the best players together all the time. Jonny Bairstow, pacer Mark Wood and all-rounder Sam Curran will miss the first two Tests. England are scheduled to play 17 Tests this year besides the T20 World Cup in India. The cramped schedule is a big reason to rotate the players.
“You want your strongest team out every time, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem possible at the moment. It’s certainly a challenge but people around the world are going through tough situations,” he said.
“You do find it challenging having to stay away from your families, being in quarantine and locked up in hotels. ECB (England Cricket Board) has been forward thinking in rotating players... At times, it’s frustrating as you want to have the best players on the show all the time but it’s not possible with the amount of time one spends in a bio- bubble.”