Nick Westby: Natural selection – Why Joe Root was the perfect candidate for England captain

MAIN MAN: Yorkshire's Joe Root, the new Test captain of England, at last week's photo call at Headingley. Picture: Tony Johnson.
MAIN MAN: Yorkshire's Joe Root, the new Test captain of England, at last week's photo call at Headingley. Picture: Tony Johnson.
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In the not too dim and distant past, my predecessor as sports editor beckoned me into his windowless office and dispatched me to Nottinghamshire.

“Get down to Trent Bridge, Westby lad, and go and assist Chris Waters in covering the final two days of the County Championship season.

I'M YOUR MAN: Yorkshire's Joe Root at Headingley last week. Picture Tony Johnson.

I'M YOUR MAN: Yorkshire's Joe Root at Headingley last week. Picture Tony Johnson.

“Do anything he needs – carry his bag, fetch him his lunch, massage his ego, massage his feet, and get me a couple of extra interviews while you’re down there.”

Ever the dutiful servent, off I went.

Relatively new to the quirky ways of the cricket press box, I found myself alienated in the outfield at the close of play once Martyn Moxon had done speaking to the press as Yorkshire closed in on reclaiming the County Championship title for the first time in what had been a long 13 years.

Waters had retreated to the confines of the press box to try to find a way to work seagulls into his penultimate report of the season.

ONE FROM THE FRONT: Joe Root - England captain. Picture: Tony Johnson.

ONE FROM THE FRONT: Joe Root - England captain. Picture: Tony Johnson.

The gathering gloom of September was descending, and I had still to get an interview.

Spying the Yorkshire press officer, I asked him to dig deep into his bank of goodwill to fetch me a player from the visiting dressing room.

“I’ll take anyone,” I begged, fearing the wrath of the gaffer once I rang to tell him I had come up empty-handed.

And I would have taken anyone. A Ryan Sidebottom maybe, always a good talker, or Jack Brooks, who together with Sidebottom had begun ripping through Nottinghamshire’s top order on the third evening of the final game as Yorkshire closed in on the title.

The man who emerged, willowy and non-descript at first, was the man tasked with leading the team that week, that most important of weeks for the county cricket club, in which history beckoned for the most storied franchise in the English game.

Joe Root was that man, 23 at the time, but already mature beyond his years.

He had enough on his plate that week, given what was at stake and how he was being asked to carry the county across the finish line in the absence of the banned Andrew Gale, and after his own summer spent swatting runs for England.

But here he was, understanding the duties of the office he temporarily held, happily coming back out of the dressing room to talk about the day’s play and what lay ahead.

As interviews go it was never one to make the sports editor immediately call down to stop the presses, but it was enough to say plenty about the man in terms of his poise, his focus, his drive.

Last week, all that promise was fulfilled when Root stepped up to cricket’s highest office, that of England captain.

Even before that day at Trent Bridge, the son of Sheffield, who can bat with the best of them, has long been earmarked for the job.

When Alastair Cook finally stood down, there was never any question it would be Root; even ahead of such Test match powerhouses as Stuart Broad and James Anderson, it was always going to be this impressive young man from Yorkshire who would lead the nation.

Root has carried himself, and his bat, with great distinction down the years and it his hard to envisage him doing anything less now the spotlight will burn even brighter upon him.

He comes across as a gentleman, which is a common trait among English cricket captains.

Cook, Andrew Strauss, Michael Vaughan and Michael Atherton all had an air of upstanding fellow about them, just as Root does.

There are not many Freddie Flintoffs who have held the title – a little rough around the edges, I’m sure he won’t mind me saying.

What’s next for Root is the greatest challenge of his life. He plans to seek advice from past captains and from outside of the inner circle of cricket, before stepping forward for the coin toss for the first time when England host South Africa in early July.

As with all captains and leaders, he will ultimately be judged on results, and the second his 50+ average starts to dip, the scrutiny will come quickly and without remorse.

Just as Cook stood up to the criticism he faced – no matter the great accomplishments he achieved in his time at the top – with great dignity and calm so Root will be well-prepared for the extreme highs and lows that will follow every win and loss over the coming months and years.

He will do well to follow the lead of Cook in the measured way he approached every facet of the job.

Root was the perfect choice for England captain; nothing he has done in the past, or the last week for that matter, suggests he won’t do his country proud as their leading representative.

We wish him well.