IT seems that the wags in the Yorkshire dressing room called it perfectly when they handed Joe Root the nickname of ‘the Milkybar Kid’.
No, not because of his striking similarity to the blond schoolboy who advertised the popular chocolate bars on TV in days gone before anyone asks. But for something completely different.
More to do with the inner-steel and strength which belies his wiry frame instead.
The catchy TV advert jingle famously referred to the young, bespectacled icon of yester-year as being “strong and tough,” with only his best being good enough.
Given the evidence of the cricketing season so far, Root is showing that fortitude and excellence in equal measure, having raised the bar consistently during a stand-out opening to 2013.
The stunning ascent of the 22-year-old – who steps out at Lord’s this morning for his first England Test appearance on home soil – may have taken many cricket fans by surprise.
But for those in the know with Yorkshire cricket close to their hearts, it is not such a shock. Just ask his White Rose captain Andrew Gale or England’s legendary Ashes-winning skipper Michael Vaughan about Root and you will receive that message loud and clear.
Sheffield Collegiate product Root heads into today’s first Investec Test against the New Zealanders at the home of cricket in seriously good order, while displaying an increasingly unerring knack of being able to tick off milestones on a consistent basis.
International debuts in all three formats have arrived in the past six months, along with several stellar contributions.
Not to mention being named as the Cricket Writers Young Player of the Year.
His latest accolade in an irresistible trail saw him captain England Lions in their four-day encounter with New Zealand at Grace Road.
They say good captains lead by example, with Root following that advice to the full, hitting a classy 179 in the drawn game.
It took his first-class tally to a hefty 646 runs before today’s Lord’s opener, with the tantalising prospect remaining that the talented top-order batsman could possibly become only the sixth Englishman ever to pass 1,000 runs by the end of May.
While that may still be a long shot, just for Root to be spoken off as having a chance speaks volumes about his form.
Just don’t expect those in the know at Headingley to be too shocked.
“It is not really a surprise to us as we know the talent Joe has got,” said Gale.
“He has grown in stature both as a player and a person.
“For him to come back with a bit more pressure on him as an international player in the way he has done with the runs he has got is outstanding.
“We are going to miss him at Yorkshire, but let’s hope he has an outstanding summer with England.”
Baby-faced in appearance and slender of build he may be, but Root has very much become a man in a cricketing sense at a rapid rate of knots, so much so that some in the media are even suggesting that he will be at the front of the queue to succeed Alastair Cook as the next England captain, despite only being capped four times in his embryonic career.
It’s some statement considering the infancy of Root’s international journey.
You may expect cricketing experts in the Broad Acres to shy away from such bold statements, for fear of overburdening someone so young. But one man who knows him well isn’t one of them.
Namely, ex-Tykes favourite Vaughan, who like Root honed his cricketing skills at Collegiate.
He said: “I can see him captaining England because he has everything.
“The problem he has is the pressure and the expectation because sometimes it doesn’t happen for you when you have that.
“But he just has to be patient and stick to the values of what he’s been doing over the last few weeks. It will be trickier for him this week playing further down the order than he’s used to, but he’s full of talent and the right attitude. That will always come through time.”
Opportunity knocks not just for Root, but his county team-mate Jonny Bairstow, with the pair sharing in a big fifth-wicket stand of 135 at Grace Road last week.
Expected to bat at five and six respectively at Lord’s, the pair will be assigned to provide the lions’ share of runs in the middle order, with Bairstow handed a precious opportunity to cash in while Kevin Pietersen continues to recover from injury.
NW8 brought the best out of the 23-year-old last August when he showed his mettle under ferocious pressure to score a mightily-impressive 95 against South Africa and his county captain hopes he can fill his boots again following a tough winter in India.
“I am pleased for Jonny as he had a bit of a rough time of it in the winter when he was out of the side and hasn’t really been able to find his feet in the team yet,” said Gale.
“But now Pietersen has got injured, he has been given the nod and I really hope he makes it hard for him or whoever else to get back in the team.”
White Rose attention may be firmly fixed on the fortunes of Root and Bairstow, but much of the box-office element to the Test opener will resolve around an intriguing battle of the giants, putting beanpole bowlers Stuart Broad and Steven Finn against lanky New Zealand opener Peter Fulton, nicknamed ‘Two-metre Peter’.
Broad has his sights on Fulton, 34, who made hundreds in each innings when the sides last met in Auckland in March – when England were forced to cling on for a 0-0 stalemate.
Finn eventually got Fulton each time, but Broad is hoping it takes nowhere near as long this time.
He added: “The only different thing with ‘two-metre Peter’ is if you go near the stumps, especially on those New Zealand wickets, he’d seem to hit it for four through the leg-side.
“His stats were quite high on leg-side scoring. So you do have to bowl a little bit different.
“But I think at the start of this series we’ll be looking to bowl disciplined, old school, top-of-off areas, not get too funky – and see where we go from there.”