Chris Waters: '˜Carry on captain' - Why Joe Root should not worry over Headingley defeat

IN his press conference after the Headingley Test, Joe Root was asked whether West Indies' achievement in chasing down the 322 runs that he had set them for victory would make him less positive when it came to making future declarations.

In charge: England's Joe Root runs out during day five of the the second Test at Headingley.
In charge: England's Joe Root runs out during day five of the the second Test at Headingley.

“Looking at it, no, I don’t think it will,” he said. “I think we were in a position where we could win the game.

“It was a fifth-day wicket, and maybe I slightly misread it from the surface, but looking at the two guys who have taken nearly 900 Test wickets between them (James Anderson and Stuart Broad), and the rest of the bowlers that we had available, on a fifth-day pitch, I thought we had a great opportunity to win the game.”

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Of course, Root was hardly likely to say that the experience would make him less positive about declaring in future matches, as that would have been the equivalent of shooting himself in the foot.

West Indies Shai Hope (facing) is congratulated by Jason Holder after scoring the winning runs at Headingley. Picture: Nigel French/PA.

“Yes, from this point on, I’m going to be a lot more negative when it comes to making declarations.”

No, the England captain was hardly likely to say that, was he?

But the hackneyed environment of a press conference is one thing, the heat of battle quite another.

Root would not be human if, the next time that England find themselves in such a position to make a declaration and push for a win, the memory of Headingley 2017 does not flash across his mind.

West Indies Shai Hope (facing) is congratulated by Jason Holder after scoring the winning runs at Headingley. Picture: Nigel French/PA.

The message to Root, however, is simply this…

Carry on, captain.

Do not let what happened change your way of doing things.

Indeed, just six Tests into the job, Root has been true to his word that his England side will endeavour to be positive at all times.

After all, spectators want to see bold, attacking declarations, particularly in an era in which the appeal of Test cricket worldwide is sadly on the wane.

They do not want to see boring finishes in which one side has no choice but to shut up shop and play for a draw because all hope of victory has been put far beyond them.

Root had every right to expect that a lead of 321 would have been more than enough to see off West Indies, particularly after the tourists’ innings defeat in the first Test at Edgbaston.

But for a combination of poor catching, bad luck, and brilliant batting, it would have been, and sometimes – to quote one of the most odious of sporting cliches -– “the opposition are allowed to play well”.

West Indies did play well – out of their skins, in fact – and a magnificent Headingley crowd was rewarded with a magnificent Test match.

But it might not have turned out that way if Root had played safe and shied away from pulling out with six overs left on day four, thereby giving his bowlers an extra bite at the cherry.

Instead, he showed an up-and-at-’em approach, the sort that is likely to put bums on seats and, in the long run, make his side into a better one.

It was heartening, as Root’s declaration dominated post-match debate, that a number of the sport’s biggest names came out in support of the Yorkshireman’s decision.

Michael Vaughan, Root’s friend and mentor, tweeted: “Declaration was very good… The skipper was thinking of winning the game… The West Indies were just too good.”

Nasser Hussain, another former England captain, said that he had “no problem” with the declaration.

Ex-Yorkshire and England fast bowler Darren Gough insisted that Root was “right to declare”, while former Australia leg-spinner Shane Warne tweeted: “Well done Joe Root on your attacking declaration.”

If Root dwells on anything after last week’s match, let us hope that it is on such messages of support concerning his tactics.

For as well as a responsibility to try to win games, captains also have a responsibility to the game itself.

It is something that Root clearly recognises.

Regardless of results, which have been good overall, Root has made a fine start to his time as leader.

He has stamped his authority on the role and showed humility too; he is clearly prepared to take senior players’ advice and consider all opinions.

There is no doubt, too, that when you watch England on the field, Yorkshire batsman Root is the one in charge; he looks like a natural leader in his body language and, most importantly, he looks like a leader of men.

The way that Root behaves around his players on the field, the way that he directs them, the way that he coaxes and supports them, suggests that he is a good man to play for.

He is firm but understanding, tough but empathetic; he plays the game the way it should be played.

Root is also – as if anyone had not noticed –- still scoring runs by the bucket-load, putting to bed any fears that the captaincy might affect his batting.

People might quibble about his conversion rate, but only in the sense that they quibble if Lionel Messi does not go on to score a hat-trick after firing his opening goal, or Ronnie O’Sullivan to a maximum break after clearing the 15 reds with blacks.

Yes, the message after the Headingley Test is simply this...

Carry on, captain.

You are doing just fine.