IT has been 18 months or so since Joe Root was chosen as the successor to his team-mate and good friend Alastair Cook as captain of England’s Test team.
Not surprisingly, there have been an equal share of ups and downs since then for both Root and the team in general but, ahead of Tuesday’s first Test against Sri Lanka gets underway in Galle, the Yorkshireman feels like he has got a “handle on things.”
I feel a lot more experienced and that throughout this summer I’ve really got a handle on things and grown in the position. I feel like it really is my team now and that I have a clear direction in where I see us going and how we’re going to get there.England captain Joe Root
Root went into the job knowing the scrutiny that he would come under, not just from the media, but also England supporters and others from within the game, ready to analyse his every move and decision.
Whereas his predecessor often looked uneasy in front of the microphones and cameras, Root has embraced that side of the job wholeheartedly – a skill that was evident from an early age whenever he found himself dealing with local media while playing for Yorkshire.
At a recent event in Morley, Leeds, to promote cricket among schoolchildren as part of a community initiative run by Village Hotels, the 27-year-old took a day out of his hectic schedule to, first teach and play along with the youngsters before spending another couple of hours conducting interviews with the various assembled print and TV media.
He is, in short, an extremely likeable and accommodating man who knows the importance of his role. It is a quality appreciated by sports writers, as well as England fans and, perhaps most crucially, the players he leads out on to the field.
He admits his time as England captain has been a steep learning curve.
“It feels good – I feel like I’ve experienced pretty much everything that you can within that time – on and off the field,” said Root.
“For that, I feel a lot more experienced and that throughout this summer I’ve really got a handle on things and grown in the position.
“I feel like it really is my team now and that I have a clear direction in where I see us going and how we’re going to get there.
“It is really exciting for me and it is really exciting for this team and, hopefully, we can take the opportunities that this winter presents to us.”
Having taken on the captaincy from Cook following a tough winter tour to India in 2016 whi ch ended with a chastening 4-0 series defeat, the following summer was a positive time for Root, England clinching series wins over South africa (3-1 ) and West Indies (2-1).
But there was to be another tough winter on the horizon, a 4-0 Ashes defeat in Australia followed by a 1-0 reverse in a two-match series that came soon after in New Zealand.
Once again, home comforts saw a turnaround in England’s fortunes, even though the summer got off to a slightly frustrating start with a drawn Test series against Pakistan.
But the 4-1 series win over Virat Kohli’s No 1-ranked India is Root’s biggest achievement to date, one that rightly brought immense satisfaction. Yet again, though, an altogether different kind of challenge now awaits him and his team in Sri Lanka.
That challenge is likely to be made slightly more difficult given that Root leads his team out in Galle on Tuesday marking something of a new era for England, with record-breaking opener Cook having brought the curtain down on a remarkable career in such spectacular style against India at The Kia Oval in September.
It poses the question of how England can hope to fill the gap, not just in terms of runs, but Cook’s vast experience.
“Obviously to have that amount of experience leave the dressing room is quite a big hit, but it does throw up a great opportunity for someone else to stand up and take that on,” added Root.
“Hopefully, in time, guys will do that, whether it is a couple of guys or one individual.
“But there are definitely a number of fellas in that room who can take on a more senior role and bring that experience to the team.”
Given their success in the second half of the summer, there is added pressure on Root and his players ahead of a winter which – after the current three-Test series – also sees them head to the Caribbean in January and February, where another three games await.
That is all before a hectic summer in which, after a first-ever Test against Ireland at Lord’s and the small matter of a World Cup, Root gets his first opportunity to put the Ashes record straight.
“I don’t think there is any added pressure, not really,” said Root. “Every series – regardless of the conditions – is going to throw plenty of challenges at you.
“You look at Australia’s pace and bounce, England is swing and seam and, in Sri Lanka, there is going to be lots of spin.
“You look at the South Africa series in Sri Lanka and it looked like a lot of hard work and they are a very good side away from home. So for South Africa to go there and struggle shows how difficult it is going to be for us.
“But if we’re smart and we find a good formula that works and fits the way that we play cricket and gets the best out of our team there is no reason why we can’t win this series.
“But, more than anything, it is about having that belief and being really clear about how we’re going to go and do it.”