Root form enough to spark the debate on top order

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Joe Root is already being portrayed by many as the man to open for England in their year of back-to-back Ashes.

The young Yorkshireman will begin a three-Test series in New Zealand next week, therefore, with much to gain after his successful debut in Nagpur.

It was there that his painstaking half-century, from No 6, helped to close out the draw which completed England’s historic first series win in India since 1984-85.

Nick Compton also played his part, however, throughout that campaign with a series of admirably determined and skilful innings at the top of the order – having won his duel with Root, in the preceding tour match schedule to open alongside Alastair Cook following Andrew Strauss’s retirement.

It is a tough call which of the pair is the most deserving, or more importantly, most likely to succeed as Cook’s first-wicket partner for the high-profile year ahead, especially with Compton struggling for form in the current warm-up game against Queenstown.

Root has struck an impressive 49 and a gritty 17, while Compton failed to make his mark yesterday, falling for just one run as England pushed their lead beyond 300.

Whether Root gets the call to open up instead of Compton is not something which concerns the Yorkshire star, he appears inclined to just let his bat do the talking.

“Just being a part of it and representing my country, it’s what you want to do growing up,” said the 22-year-old.

“To actually have that opportunity has been fantastic.

“I’m just trying to do things I’ve always done. I’ve not tried to change too much, just trying to play the situation I’ve been put in. It seems to have come off so far.”

That is an understatement, given Root’s rate of progress over the past two months, in which he has added Twenty20 and one-day international debuts to that maiden Test.

He has also set a new record in ODIs, by making 30 or more in each of his first six innings.

He has still yet to be dismissed under that score too, following his unbeaten 28 as England prefaced the Tests here with a five-wicket verdict in Auckland to add ODI series success to their victory in the Twenty20s.

Throughout, Root has appeared the picture of calm authority at the crease.

“It would be wrong to say you don’t get nervous,” he said. “But I’ve been just so excited that it’s overwhelmed my nerves and got me in a good frame of mind to perform well.

“I’m really looking forward to the next three weeks. I’ve been working very hard along with the rest of the lads to put a strong case forward for playing in the first Test.

“I’ve always wanted to play Test cricket from a young age – that’s what you dream about.”

Many sound judges are predicting a famous future for Root.

Michael Vaughan, for example, has suggested already that he will follow him all the way from their shared beginnings – albeit a generation apart – at Sheffield Collegiate CC to the England captaincy.

Root is not getting ahead of himself, however.

“That’s obviously very nice to hear,” he said. “But I’ve only played a handful of games, so it would be wrong for me to start thinking about anything like that.”

Neither is he claiming just yet to be the latest in the dynasty of Yorkshire and England openers dating back through the ages to Herbert Sutcliffe, Len Hutton, Geoff Boycott and finally Vaughan.

“I’m very proud to be from Yorkshire,” he added. “It’s got a huge history... you can’t really help where you’re from, can you?

“It’s obviously been there for a very long time now, and it would be lovely to be a part of it.”

While Compton has not quite made the same impact as Root since that debut Test in India, England are still confident he is capable of delivering big runs when it matters most.

Compton has been unable to instantly repay the faith shown in him, to continue as England’s Test opener.

The 29-year-old was bounced out for a single by Mark Gillespie on Friday, to add to his first-innings 21, before England overcame a wobble at 67-4 to reach 256-9 by the close.

That put them 333 runs ahead going into the final day of four against a New Zealand XI at the Queenstown Event Centre ground, thanks principally to a near run-a-ball half-century from Matt Prior (68) and then Graeme Swann’s brisk, unbeaten 41 at number 10.

It was far from an entirely convincing performance, however, as they conceded a surge of boundaries in the morning to Corey Anderson (67) and BJ Watling (66no) before the hosts declared on 349-7.

As well as Compton, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen have also been short of runs over the past three days. But Prior is backing both them, and Alastair Cook’s new opening partner, to come good.

Compton has been given the chance to consolidate his hard work in the historic series win in India before Christmas, as England again resist the temptation to take a punt just yet on pushing Root up to open the innings.

“He would want to have gone out and smashed a hundred,” Prior said. “But he’s hitting the ball brilliantly in the nets, and it will be down to him to get his preparation right going into the Test.

You can score all the runs you want in the world in warm-up games, but ultimately that first innings of the Test match is where we want Compo to go and score a big hundred.”

The same goes for Pietersen and Trott, who have both proved many times before that they are adept at rising to the occasion.

“The guys are experienced enough to know that the big test starts next week, and that’s when it’s important they score runs. They’ve been on tours where they haven’t scored runs in warm-up games, and then blitzed a hundred in the first Test.”

England got themselves into a spot of bother, with Gillespie taking four wickets, before Prior dominated an important stand with Root.

“Obviously, it wasn’t great to start off with – you don’t want to lose early wickets,” he said. “Those guys at the top would love to score hundreds every time they walk out to bat, but that’s not possible.

“In that scenario, it is up to the middle and lower order to bail the team out – and, from that point of view, it was excellent practice.

“For me personally, to be in that position – not dissimilar to how it would be in a Test match, if we’d lost a few early wickets with bowlers running in hard – to knuckle down and find a bit of rhythm out in the middle is perfect preparation.

“That’s very, very pleasing... what you’re trying to get out of warm-up matches.”

England’s bowlers took a battering first thing, Graham Onions suffering in particular as Anderson and Watling launched an onslaught against the second new ball.

But Prior reported that at least seamer Stuart Broad – who conceded 33 runs in six overs – is bowling well, despite the heel injury which has troubled him in recent months.