ALEC STEWART has been keeping his eye out for Joe Root since first being tipped off about the Yorkshireman’s potential by former England team-mate Graham Thorpe.
The two men shared a dressing room at both county and international level for well over a decade so know each other well.
Stewart, for instance, knows that Thorpe, now the ECB’s lead batting coach with the Academy, is not one to go overboard when discussing the potential of a young cricketer.
So, when the former left-hander started to wax lyrical about Root almost two years ago, Stewart immediately took note and decided it might be wise to take a look at the Yorkshire prospect for himself.
Now, as Root prepares for what has to be one of the toughest assignments in cricket as a member of the England party touring India, the one-time Test captain is eagerly waiting to see the youngster in action.
“Thorpey isn’t someone who gets too excited about senior players,” said 49-year-old Stewart, speaking exclusively to the Yorkshire Post in his guise as an ambassador for Clydesdale Bank.
“But when it came to Joe Root, he said, ‘This lad could be something very special’. It was about 21 months ago. And because Thorpey is someone who I respect and whose judgement I trust, from that moment on I have been looking out for Joe.
“In terms of seeing Joe live, I’ve only managed it once. But I have seen him on television quite a bit. And having watched him, he looks very impressive.”
Root, who played a big role in helping Yorkshire win promotion back to the First Division of the County Championship this summer, is someone who has been closely monitored through his time with the Lions.
He has worked for the past two years with Thorpe, who has spent time refining the 21-year-old’s technique against spin. The value of those long hours spent in the nets will be put to the test over the next couple of months if Root gets a chance to impress on the tour of India.
Whether Root gets much cricket in India remains to be seen with the return of Kevin Pietersen to the international fold likely to restrict the Yorkshireman’s opportunities.
Stewart, though, can see only benefits for the youngster’s inclusion in the tour party.
He said: “I don’t know Joe. I’ve never even shaken his hand. But where the selectors are good is they don’t just pick on talent. They pick on character and temperament, too.
“On that score, Joe is in good hands as Dizzy (Jason Gillespie) and Martyn Moxon are good guys. Thorpey is also good for him, too.
“India can be a tough tour. We go there as definite underdogs in the series. Joe wants to come back having become a more educated cricketer.
“His eyes will be opened, I am sure, by seeing international cricket first-hand – and especially in a place like India where the fans are very passionate. That can be a big thing.
“Whether he sets the world alight straight away with hundreds or he just gets some single-figure scores, he will come back a better player. And a more experienced player.
“That can only stand him in good stead as we move forward.
“Expectations have to be kept low and realistic. We don’t want to heap pressure on him. But, at the same time, we want him to perform because he has been picked to perform.
“We must remember it is his first tour and the lad is only 21. That’s why my advice would be, ‘Go and express yourself as you have been picked for a reason, let’s see how good you are’.
“Is he going to rip trees up straight away? Obviously, I hope so. But I feel he has more been picked on what he will do in the future.
“Thankfully, the selectors these days stick with players. If you are good enough, then you are good enough for a series. Or, ideally, longer.
“When you go into a new job in any walk of life, for the first period of time you feel different. You might have come from a different place where you have been successful.
“But going into a new environment, it takes time to settle and get your feet on the ground. That’s what I mean about the selectors. There isn’t a temptation to throw someone in after two good weeks of county cricket before then kicking them back out, never to be heard of again.
“The ‘one-Test wonders’ will be few and far between now because of that process. Geoff Miller and his co-selectors know exactly what is coming through from the age of 17 upwards.
“Of course, knowing if they will perform is impossible. But the selectors do have an advantage in that they know what they are picking. There is no longer any need to try and second-guess.”
If Root does get a chance, starting with tomorrow’s warm-up match against Mumbai, then Stewart believes whether things go well or awry from the start, he can turn to Yorkshire team-mate Jonny Bairstow for tips on how to handle the step up.
He added: “Because he is so young, there will be blips. We have seen that with Jonny Bairstow already. Jonny had a blip but came back with a really good game against South Africa at Lord’s and everything is rosey again.
“Everyone, including the very best, will have had issues with the short ball at times – whether through lack of form or being out of sync with their foot movement.
“But Jonny came back and was positive, which I liked. That experience will have helped Jonny, who is a much better player now than he was at the start of the summer. And that is down to experience.
“With Joe Root, he hasn’t experienced too many tough times and too many disappointments just yet.
“But I am still excited by him. I am very pleased the selectors went for Joe Root. It will be tough, which is what international cricket is. The jump from county cricket to Test cricket is huge.
“By that, I don’t just mean the standard of play. But it puts you more in the spotlight as a player and you have to handle that.
“But if the reports about Joe are correct about him being a quick learner and being able to think quickly on his feet, he should have a very bright future.”
Alec Stewart is an ambassador for Clydesdale Bank, sponsors of the Clydesdale Bank 40, who are supporting local communities through their Howzat! campaign. Visit facebook.com/ClydesdaleBankCricket