The county’s director of cricket said that Root’s preference to go in at No 4, allied to the fact that he scored a hundred from that position against the West Indies in St Lucia last week, made it highly unlikely that there would be any U-turn for this summer’s Ashes.
Root has been criticised by some pundits, including former England captain Bob Willis, for not batting in the troubled No 3 role with which England have struggled since the retirement of Jonathan Trott in 2015.
Although Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance initially made a great success of it before losing his place, England have tried five men in that position this winter alone –Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Keaton Jennings, Jonny Bairstow and Joe Denly.
“The big problem is that Joe Root expects everybody else to go in and bat at No 3 but he won’t do it,” blasted Willis. “If he went up to three, and we could find two opening batsmen, then the side has a much better look to it…
“I don’t care what Joe Root wants… I want the best for England.”
Root does not wish to bat at No 3, where he has less time to balance the twin demands of batting and the captaincy.
Coming in later at No 4 (albeit not much later on the evidence of England’s recent Test history), he is theoretically more rested and better placed to take advantage of the older ball in a position he enjoys.
Root averages 48.82 at No 4 compared to 40.47 at No 3, although he did make his highest score – 254 against Pakistan at Old Trafford in 2016 – from the No 3 slot, albeit before he was captain.
Moxon, who has worked closely with Root over the years in his capacity as Yorkshire’s director of cricket, believes that the status quo will remain against Australia.
“I can’t see Joe moving from No 4,” he said. “We can talk all we want, but I don’t think it’s going to change; I just don’t see it happening.
“The top-three is clearly an issue, and if anyone is capable of filling those slots, then Joe certainly would be. But, clearly as captain, he feels that four is his best position, and he’s just got another hundred there, while Denly has given himself a chance (at No 3) with a half-century in the final Test.”
The inference from Willis’s remarks and from those of other pundits is that Root is putting his own interests first. He would counter by saying it is in England’s best interests that he bats in his most successful position.
“I’m not inside Joe’s mind, obviously, but he obviously feels that that’s the best place for him as captain to bat,” said Moxon. “If he didn’t, he would move. Only he knows how he feels about it. But he’s someone who, if he didn’t think it was the right thing to do, he’d change it.”
Root’s preference would not be a problem if England could find a settled top-three. However, he does not have the cushion of someone like India’s Cheteshwar Pujara at No 3 – a cushion enjoyed by Virat Kohli – as debate continues about England’s best top-order.
“I think Rory Burns is going to stay,” added Moxon. “Keaton Jennings is the one that’s under scrutiny, I think, at the minute, but the other two (Burns and Denly) have a decent chance of playing.
“But you’ve got to admire Jennings’s resilience. He fought like hell, and if he gets a lot of runs in county cricket at the start of the season, then he may hold his place. If not, then whoever is in form has a good chance of playing.”
Those with perhaps as much chance as anyone include the likes of Yorkshire opener Adam Lyth, who played seven Tests in 2015, plus the perennially consistent Ballance.
Among the young players coming up on the rails is Yorkshire’s Harry Brook, who looks to have something about him and who one would not be remotely surprised to see force his way into the Test team in the not-too-distant future.
“There’s a chance for any county cricketer who has a good first half of the summer (to play in the Ashes),” said Moxon.
“There are some obvious candidates in our squad, and I think that they’re aware of the situation. Hopefully, they can put the runs on the board that will allow them to be considered. It’s a poisoned chalice, though, as we obviously don’t want to lose them.”
Reflecting on the West Indies series overall, which England lost 2-1 after heavy defeats in the first two Tests, Moxon felt the tourists suffered from a lack of preparation. England rejected the chance of a proper first-class match before the series, instead playing two two-day practice games.
“You just wonder, don’t you, whether it’s under-preparation going into the series that cost them,” he said. “That would be my take on it; they didn’t have a lot of time and it’s interesting that two weeks into the series, they played a lot better.
“It’s been a tough tour, and the first two Tests were really difficult, but, fair play to them and to Joe, they regrouped and put in a much better performance in the final Test.
“It’s saved face a little bit and shown what they are capable of.”