Joe Root owes his career-best innings against Pakistan to the “hurt” caused by batting coach Mark Ramprakash’s assessment of his recent efforts.
Root hit a Test-best 254 and 71 not out as England levelled the series at Old Trafford, an innings full of determination and focus that had been lacking from his game in the previous match at Lord’s.
The Yorkshireman was visibly angry at the manner of both dismissals in that match, a botched sweep and a soft pull, and sought Ramprakash’s counsel after the match.
What came back was an uncomfortable truth, as Ramprakash suggested it was a psychological issue rather than a technical one.
“It was almost like the final straw at Lord’s. I’d really wound myself up,” he said.
“I knew having been moved up the order (to No 3) and being 1-0 down in the series, I needed to put a really big performance in (at Old Trafford).
“So I worked really hard in practice and spoke to Mark Ramprakash.
“One thing he said was, ‘Are you mentally in the right place to play Test cricket at the minute?’.
“I didn’t even think about that at the time. That sort of hurt me, that someone would say that to me.
“All he said was, ‘It must be your mental approach to things because your game looks in good order’. It’s actually exactly what I needed to hear and that’s why he is such a good batting coach. It was a good motivator to get me in the right place for Old Trafford.”
Root is one of England’s core three-format players, anchoring the batting in Test, ODI and Twenty20 cricket.
That is a mark of the quality and adaptability of his game, although he feels it was the switch from white to red ball that had affected some of his decision-making.
“I think it may have had something to do with switching across three forms,” he noted.
“I don’t think it’s a fatigue thing, it was just the way I was approaching it, still expecting to score at a certain rate or play in a way that didn’t really suit the situation.
“Previously I’ve got that right but on this occasion I don’t think I did quite. It was nice to have a push in the right direction.”
Root’s mind is currently on Edgbaston and Wednesday’s third Test against Pakistan, but English cricket’s collective gaze is never far away from the next Ashes series.
That comes Down Under in 18 months and, although England hold the urn after last summer’s 3-2 triumph, their previous trip to Australia ended in a humiliating whitewash.
Root was one of many who struggled badly for form and was dropped for the only time in his Test career in Sydney, leaving him with unfinished business.
“I think there are a few players in our squad who were on the previous tour and would like to get back out there and put some really strong performances in,” he said. “It is one of the best feelings in Test cricket I would imagine, winning in Australia.
“We’ve got a really strong squad of players, but we’ve got a lot of obstacles and challenges we need to overcome before we can even think about that.
“A lot can happen in a year let alone 18 months and if it all goes wrong I might not even be on the trip.”
Even further ahead is the mooted change to domestic T20 cricket.
Introducing a city-based franchise system like Australia’s Big Bash is being discussed and Root would be happy to see it come to fruition.
“The Big Bash is a fantastic tournament – they do it really well and it seems to be going from strength to strength every year,” he said. “If we could produce something similar it would benefit T20 cricket in England. The competition has been very strong this year, but if there are ways for it to be improved I am open to those suggestions.”
Root, a proud Sheffield boy, would even turn out for a side called Leeds – on one condition.
“If it went as far as that I could be persuaded to, yes,” said the lifelong Sheffield United fan. “As long as it wasn’t Leeds United.”
England all-rounder Ben Stokes, meanwhile, has hinted he could still play some part in the subsequent limited-overs series against Pakistan.
Stokes has been left out of the squad for next week’s third Test at Edgbaston, having torn his calf during the series-levelling victory at Old Trafford.
There was some concern that his international summer was over, with the England and Wales Cricket Board’s medical staff set to assess his condition in the coming days.
But the 25-year-old made his own assessment on Twitter, targeting a return to action sooner than expected, although the August 11 Test at The Oval will be too soon.
Stokes posted: “Another couple weeks of rehab and hoping to finish off what has been great summer so far for @ECB_cricket.”