Trevor Bayliss first floated the idea of Joe Root moving to No3 at the end of the Test series victory over South Africa last winter and now six months on, after Nick Compton’s final series proved one too far and much discussion behind the scenes, the button has finally been pushed.
For the first Test with Pakistan at Lord’s on Thursday, one which makes for a mouth-watering encounter beyond the seemingly fated return of Mohammad Amir, it will be the 25-year-old who strides out to the middle at the fall of the first England wicket, having been slowly convinced by his coach, Bayliss, and his captain, Alastair Cook, that as the best player in the side the role is his destiny.
Of this status in the team there is little doubt. Root has enjoyed two bumper years in the whites of his country, scoring 2,538 runs in 27 Tests at an average of 63.45 and enjoying a three-way game of musical chairs at the top of the batting rankings with Steve Smith of Australia and New Zealand’s Kane Williamson. This run has come batting at four and five, with the player understandably voicing a preference to remain in the middle order before the arrival of Sri Lanka at the start of this summer.
The subsequent flatlining of Compton’s form during that comfortable 2-0 series victory screamed for change and, while Durham’s Scott Borthwick was initially earmarked for the role, Bayliss and Cook decided before last Thursday’s selection meeting that now was the right time to sound out Root over the possibility of turning an idea they had been drip-feeding to him since the start of the year into reality.
“There have been a few conversations over the last six months about looking more long term, not at one series in particular, but as something that could happen down the line,” said Root on Tuesday. “That was in their thoughts and gave me an opportunity to think about it. I was then asked leading up to the selection that it could be a possibility. I said: ‘Yeah, I think that could be the right thing to do’.”
“I think the fact I had quite a long time to have a think about it and chat it over with the selectors, Trevor and Cooky made it a little bit easier than being thrown into the role. The way they have dealt with it has been really good. It has given me time to get my head around it. It was really nice of them to say that [the best batsman should be at No3] and I feel I’m gaining confidence all the time with the experience I’m getting playing more and more Tests. I’m looking forward to getting out there and getting some big scores under my belt early doors.”
It is not entirely new territory for Root, who played three Tests there during the 2013-14 Ashes series whitewash after Jonathan Trott – the one sustained success story at No3 for England since the turn of the century – flew home with a stress-related illness and the remainder of the team were left to be barbecued by a fire-breathing Mitchell Johnson and his relentless new-ball partner Ryan Harris.
Root, who made his debut in Nagpur in 2012 at No6 before five home Ashes Tests as Cook’s opening partner, averaged 27 at No3 before being dropped for the harrowing final instalment in Sydney. He insists, however, that this one chastening experience in the position should not be instructive as to the chances of him making his new home a happy one.
“In Australia I was thrown in under strange circumstances, in a series when we weren’t at our best,” he said. “I have matured quite a lot as a player since and my game has developed. As a kid I always opened so I’m used to batting against the new ball. I have experience of opening, batting at No3 and I’m just looking forward to getting on with it.”
If potentially disrupting Root’s golden run looks a risk, then the selection of Gary Ballance, who scored four centuries from No3 in his previous incarnation, down the order is a more conservative choice. Bayliss had been tempted to play Ben Stokes as a specialist batsman and during practice the all-rounder was seen bowling at full tilt following knee surgery, along with the similarly overlooked Jimmy Anderson.
The session, which took place indoors because of a downpour, had two new faces present as rugby’s Eddie Jones stood looking on alongside his assistant coach. Briefly, and in light of the recent debate surrounding Root’s promotion, it was wondered whether the invitation had simply been posted to the wrong S Borthwick.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010