It seemed almost inevitable. From the moment he scored a composed 73 on debut at Nagpur, the shrewdest of judges, the harshest of critics and the most discerning of fans had Joe Root inked in at the top of the order for the next 10 years or so. That said, perhaps nobody expected it to happen quickly; it may seem a lifetime ago, but it was only recently that Nick Compton scored back to back centuries in New Zealand.
The fact that people don’t seem to remember that is for two reasons.
The first is that as far as cricketers are concerned, recent failures are remembered more than the successes a few short months before said failures.
The second is that you don’t usually remember a Nick Compton innings. He has none of the elegance of an Ian Bell or the panache of a Kevin Pietersen. He does not have the unhurried yet organized air of a Jonathan Trott, nor does he inspire the I-want-to-hit-my-head-on-a-brick-wall feelings bowlers get while bowling to Alastair Cook. He isn’t a dasher; runs are eked out by him. Each delivery is not an event, it is an examination.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it proves that he wants to be there, that he doesn’t take it all for granted. However, there is a feeling that it is the very intensity that got him to the England side that consumes him. He wants to succeed too badly; survival seems his primary objective, as opposed to scoring runs.
Some will point to his technique; he seems very rigid at the crease and takes a short step forward with his front foot. That must be the problem then – he has such a rigid technique that he can’t seem to score any runs. It must have been another Nick Compton who scored 1191 runs at 99.25 in the County Championship last year.
His problems are temperamental. When we speak of temperament in cricket, we automatically think of those extravagantly talented players who look like they’re batting on another surface till they throw it all away. Nick Compton is another breed; he knows he isn’t extravagantly talented. He bats with a single-minded obsessiveness, and doesn’t throw it away. He wanted it too bad, he put too much pressure on himself, he absolutely had to succeed, and so he failed.
The man, or should I say boy, who replaced him bats with all the youthful exuberance and joie de vivre that Compton lacks. Or should I say Joe de vivre? Joe Root looks the part. Where Compton always seemed like he had a point to prove, Root has blithely waltzed into international cricket. It’s been far more than a case of him taking to it like a duck to water. He bats like he’s been preparing for the moment his entire life, displaying complete insouciance to the pressures of international sport.
Who can forget his century at Headingley? Who would begrudge him the shouts of ‘Root! Root! Root!’ from the partisan Yorkshire crowd? His batting is easy on the eye, reminiscent of a young Michael Vaughan with the correctness of each shot he plays. The calmness and apparent imperviousness to pressure haven’t gone unnoticed either; not since the days of Michael Atherton has a young England batsman been touted as a future captain so early in his career.
He never had a storming County Season; he was picked after impressing with the England Lions, and hasn’t looked back. He has risen to every challenge; it is not easy for an opening batsman to bat at number 6. He did that. It is not easy for a young player to rescue his team from a precarious situation; he has done that more than once.
It is very easy to get overwhelmed by success at such a tender age; many forget that he is still only 22. But Root has remained his own man. In the face of intense media scrutiny after his run-in with David Warner, Root displayed all the qualities that have impressed the England management and cricket enthusiasts. No inflammatory remarks from him, except: I’d like to go back to playing cricket, please.
‘We believe Joe Root is currently the best opening partner for Alastair Cook’. It’s as simple as that. The right man for the right job, as it were. The fact that Joe Root is an opening batsman by trade, that at 22 he has a good many years ahead of him, that the impetuous Johnny Bairstow will slot in at number 6 as a result of this decision, are not germane to the primary decision. England feel that Joe Root and Alastair Cook will make the best opening pair, a pair that can blunt the threat of the Australian new ball attack and lay a platform at the same time.
It is not so much Compton not being the right man for the job as Root being the better man for the job. It is not a reflection of Compton’s skill, commitment or desire – nobody disputes any of that. Root is young, precociously talented, innovative, hungry and has a certain serenity about him that bellies his age.
The rise of Joe Root has not coincided with the fall of Nick Compton. He has not been selected due to Compton’s shortcomings, but due to his own merit. He might have been batting in the middle order while Compton opened in England’s last Test assignment. That is the past. As far as the present goes, Joe Root’s time is now. And given the fact that he has met every challenge with steely equanimity so far, the future might well be his as well.
Headingley will not be the last time we heard those chants of ‘Root! Root! Root!’