Wednesday, 13 September 2017

England's fragile top order means Root should bat at three

Whilst the series victories over South Africa and the West Indies provided Joe Root with a positive start as England test captain, questions have arisen regarding the fragility of England’s top order. Keaton Jennings was brought in as the eleventh batsman to open alongside Cook since Andrew Struass’ retirement in 2012, but the Johannesburg born Durham opener was disappointing and a return to the England fold seems unlikely in the near future. 

The summer also saw Essex’s Tom Westley, Middlesex’s Dawid Malan and Surrey’s Mark Stoneman handed their first England caps. The debutants have shown glimpses of their capabilities, but these have been few and far between, and such a lack of consistency has meant England have relied on the same experienced faces to pull the side out of trouble.

Thankfully, the burden of captaincy has not hindered Root’s performances with the bat. His first innings as skipper saw him score 190 at Lord’s against South Africa, and the Yorskshireman scored five half centuries and two centuries over the summer.
Root's 190 against South Africa was an example of the Yorkshireman coming in early on to pull England out of trouble

Root posted these scores while batting at his preferred position at number four and questions have arisen asking whether the upcoming Ashes series this winter should see Root promote himself to third in the order because he’s effectively been doing that already.

The consistent failure of England’s top three to bat for prolonged periods of time has meant that Root has been regularly coming to the crease much earlier than you would typically want, or expect, for a number four. England have been reliant on their captain to provide stability and pull England out of trouble as the first two wickets have fallen quickly, with few runs on the board, far too often this summer. 

Root’s remarkable 190 in the first test against South Africa came with him arriving at the crease with England 17-2 after only 5.2 overs, England were 3-2 when Root was required – this time after only 4.1 overs – in the second test as he posted a quick fire 78 at Trent Bridge. He came in at 30-2 in the second innings at Old Trafford and, after scoring 52 in the first innings, he fell one run short of another half century after succumbing to a wonderful Duanne Olivier delivery.  Over the series Root notched up 461 runs, including at least one century or half century in each test. 

Against the West Indies Root found himself in the same situation again. Only 7.2 overs into the first test and England’s second wicket had fallen for only 39 runs, after Stoneman and Westley were dismissed early on. In after only 37 minutes of play, Root went on to score 136 and his partnership with Cook put England firmly in control. 39-2 was the score when he came in during the first innings at Headingly, and his final innings of the summer at Lord’s there were only 15 runs on the board when Root found himself in the middle.

These numbers reaffirm my earlier point: he’s effectively been batting at number three already. The fact that he has been coming in so early in sessions has meant that, when he has been arriving at the crease, the ball is still new, hard and shiny. So if he were to promote himself to number three, such changes should be easier to adapt to, as he will be comfortable batting against the newer ball.
Root should consider moving himself to number three, as England’s fragile top order means he's effectively been batting there anyway

Root began his England career batting at number six, but opened alongside Cook during the 2013 Ashes series, with a score of 180 in the second test being the highlight of a campaign in which Root struggled to score consistently. 

He has batted at number three in 16 tests for England. During these tests he averaged 45.33 (compared to an average of 56.16 when batting lower) scoring seven half centuries and two hundreds. So whilst his average is significantly lower as a number three, his stats there is still pretty strong. One must remember that Root is a much more experienced cricketer now than he was when he last batted at number three, and so it is likely that his average now would be higher now and, as previously alluded to, this summer he has been coming in in the conditions expected for a number three - with England in trouble - and still posted some of his best scores. 

Root may prefer coming in at four, but the captain coming in at one down would release the lower order of the burden of carrying their underperforming top order counterparts. This would allow the likes of Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes to play express their expansive style of batting more freely. Not to mention removing some of the pressure off of the bowlers.

As captain, Root must assess what is best for the team, and that may include him taking on a role he may be reluctant to, but, as he is one of the best batsman in the world, such a transition may not be as difficult as he thinks.
Root is now a more experienced cricketer than when he last batted at three for England.
Twitter: @JNugaraBFC

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