England v India: Root is growing into role of England captain

England's Ollie Pope during the nets session at Lord's.
England's Ollie Pope during the nets session at Lord's.
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Joe Root must take another important step against India at Lord’s as he begins to put his stamp on the England captaincy.

The man himself is in no mood to crow about his part in the hard-earned victory in England’s 1,000th Test at Edgbaston which put them 1-0 up in this Specsavers series.

England captain Joe Root.

England captain Joe Root.

On the eve of the second Test – having duly announced England’s latest 20-year-old rising star Ollie Pope will make his debut at No 4 – Root deftly deflected any suggestion that he was the orchestrator of a 31-run win which hogged the back pages for all the right reasons last weekend.

Since then, cricket coverage has deferred to the Bristol Crown Court case which takes Ben Stokes out of the equation for the second Test.

Root made clear at his pre-match press conference that he would be answering no questions on that topic, but did reflect on the collective effort which helped England prevail in Birmingham.

“Ultimately, regardless of what you do as captain, your players have to perform – and I thought they were exceptional,” he said.

“It’s not for me to take the credit for their hard work.

“Under pressure we stayed calm... it would have been easy for us to chase the game on that last morning, but we didn’t.

“It’s nice to know our thinking is right and we’re able to follow through on that when it really matters.”

Root contributed a crucial first-innings 80, then kept making the right calls with bowling changes – right down to the make-or-break fourth morning.

After a hit-and-miss tenure so far – more defeats than victories in 17 Tests in charge, a miserable winter and a winless sequence extended to eight at Lord’s in May – a second consecutive success was a much-needed morale boost.

More than that, it felt like a staging post in Root’s development.

“It does take a little bit of time to get used to things... there has been a lot of learning throughout the year-and-a-half,” he said.

“(But) I think from the start of this summer I had a real clear idea about how we want to go about things.”

It did not start well against Pakistan, but England’s latest thrilling win may prove a new benchmark for their captain.

“It fills you with masses of confidence... to win a close game,” he said. “One of the most exciting things about last week is that we weren’t at our best... but we found a way to win under pressure, and wrestle momentum back.

“That’s a sign of some strong characters in our dressing-room – and having had some indifferent results in the recent past, to pull off a win like that is a really good sign. But it’s about backing it up now, looking for consistency in back-to-back games, and this is an opportunity to do that.”

Root is confident Pope can prove up to the task, despite his rise not just in class but from the No 6 position in which he has been so prolific for Surrey this season.

“The way his game is set up, I think it’s very much transferable to bat at No 4 in Test cricket,” Root said. “I know that might be seen as quite a big jump. But he’s obviously an exciting talent and, with the guys around him, I think he fits nicely into that position in our team.

“I’m looking forward to him, more than anything, just going out there and being himself – and playing exactly as he has done throughout this summer.”

Both teams have retained the option of picking a second spinner on a pitch which may still start conspicuously green, but is thought to be baked dry underneath by months of un-English sunshine.

India are most likely to prefer wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav to his fellow left-armer Ravindra Jadeja, alongside Ravi Ashwin, if they do alter the balance of their attack.

Captain Virat Kohli said: “It could be a tempting thought, two spinners are definitely in contention.

“The pitch looked very hard, the surface very dry.”