Joe Root’s emergence as a first-choice middle-order option may complicate England’s selection plans for the Champions Trophy, but batting coach Graham Thorpe would have it no other way.
Root, a protege of Thorpe’s with the England Lions over the past two years, has surprised many with the ease of his elevation to full international colours.
Barely two months after his impressive Test debut in Nagpur, the young Yorkshireman is busy establishing himself in both limited-overs formats – and after just seven one-day internationals, his statistics are enviable.
The 22-year-old’s third half-century in six innings – a career-best, unbeaten 79 – helped England to a series-levelling eight-wicket victory over New Zealand in Napier.
On the eve of the decider at Eden Park, Thorpe acknowledged the tough competition for places which appears inevitable after the return of the rested Kevin Pietersen.
“It’s great to have a world-class player who can come back into your side,” he said.
“I always think competition is very important at this level, and to have young players putting senior players under pressure is a good thing as well – because then you get the best out of those seniors.
“If England want to be competitive in all three formats, then we need that depth.”
Famed game-changer Pietersen will surely be back somewhere in the top four, come what may. But if Root is to be accommodated too, others may be vulnerable.
Thorpe, long an advocate of Root’s potential, has been impressed all over again with his most recent performances.
A century on Test debut propelled Thorpe into the limelight at the start of his illustrious England career, however he warns no one – however gifted, or well-organised–- makes seamless progression throughout at the highest level.
“Joe’s a quick learner. He’s got a good temperament, good character and he’s a good player,” said Thorpe.
“But it’s early, and I think there should always be an edge of caution with young players.”
Root is not likely to become flustered at the first sign of the going getting tough, though.
“I think he’s a pretty level-headed bloke, which is important, and I think he’s improved a lot in the last six months.
“At the moment, it’s all gone pretty well for him.
“He seems to have embraced the environment, and fits in very well.”
Sheffielder Root has already demonstrated his range of shots, invention and resourcefulness in limited-overs cricket.
His slight frame, however, means he has yet to convince he can hit with the power of so many of England’s new breed of batsmen.
Thorpe is nonetheless optimistic Root will continue to address that issue in time. “His power has improved within the last year alone.
“He’s physically stronger than he was a year ago, and if you go back 18 months there wasn’t that much of him,” added Thorpe.
“But he always had a good cricket brain. That’s what I sensed about him as a batsman; he has good awareness, and that’s what half the battle’s all about – when to play certain shots.
“His range of strokes is improving and he’s got a good head on his shoulders.”
Around Root and Jonathan Trott are a clutch of players who can put the ball out of the ground with apparent ease, and regularity – especially those slightly lower down the current order such as Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler.
“I don’t think everybody has to do it in the team,” said coach Thorpe.
“But I’m a big believer you should be able to at least try to play every shot, and then the key is working out which ones are going to be your best in certain situations.
“I like players to experiment, because the more options you have the more chance there is – when the pressure’s on – of coming up with a shot which can return that pressure on the bowler.”
In Wednesday’s win, Trott employed the reverse-sweep early in his innings – an indication perhaps that, with Thorpe’s influence, England are open to suggestions about how to stay a step ahead.
“These players are experienced, and know their own games very well,” he added.
“I suppose with some of those players who’ve played for a while, it’s whether you can get any ‘add-ons’ into their game.”
Whether there is any tinkering to be done or not, England’s latest victory delighted Thorpe – who is hoping for a series-clincher today, at a ground where the big-hitters may hold sway over conspicuously short straight boundaries.
He said: “It was an all-round pleasing performance, and we’d love to back it up again here (today).
“If you go back and look at some of the scores here, they’re not as high as you might think they could be.
“But you can score over 300, if you set the game up well for yourself.”
Touch, timing and power will all play their part if England are to achieve that aim.