Weekend Interview: Joe Root remains happy to take lead from Alastair Cook

Career highlight: England and Yorkshire batting star Joe Root leaves the pitch after being caught out for his highest score of 254 against Pakistan during the second day of the Second Test at Old Trafford this year. (Picture: Martin Rickett/PA)
Career highlight: England and Yorkshire batting star Joe Root leaves the pitch after being caught out for his highest score of 254 against Pakistan during the second day of the Second Test at Old Trafford this year. (Picture: Martin Rickett/PA)
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There has become a familiar sight at the crease for England supporters watching Test cricket over the last two years.

A left-hand, right-hand combination scurrying between the wickets. At one end of the 22-yard strip, a studious, determined figure churning out valuable contributions in almost robotic fashion.

At the other, a smiling enterpriser, defiant but creative in his business of carrying the weight of a nation’s expectation on his shoulders.

For some time now, England captain Alastair Cook and his vice, Joe Root, have shouldered the burden of responsibility in amassing match-defining stands.

In the last 19 Tests – since Adam Lyth’s 107 at Headingley in May, 2015, they are the only two specialist batsmen to have made it into three figures for England.

As Cook passed the record for England’s most capped player in Chittagong this week – just days after his second child was born – questions grew as to whether his records will ever be matched.

Some believe that only Yorkshire’s Root could possibly come near – especially given the potential of T20 distractions and scheduling in future years.

But beating his colleague’s records, Root insists, mean little next to scoring runs in England’s cause.

The more his performances attract headlines worldwide, however, the more the gap between them will close.

“I look at what Cooky’s done and think, that’s a lot of runs,” says Root, eyes firmly open.

“It’s amazing how he is like a machine and just keeps banging them out. I have not put any goals in place, just to keep trying to help us win games and contribute to us doing well.

“If I am doing that, and preparing properly, records will look after themself.”

The Yorkshireman passed 4,000 Test match runs only 148 days slower than Cook and in doing so became the fourth youngest in the sport’s history – the great Sachin Tendulkar and Kane Williamson being the others.

However, a lot of cricket must be played before Root nears Cook’s 10,000 runs mark – a figure that will grow before the England captain retires.

Not only as a batting partner has Root become Cook’s right-hand man with his contribution in the field almost as important.

To many, the Sheffield batsman is seen as Cook’s natural successor.

Actions rather than words underline Root’s credentials and it is clear the 25-year-old is soaking up every piece of captaincy advice handed out.

Asked if he sees himself succeeding Cook, Root says: “We obviously have chats on the field about little changes here or there and, in the dressing room, you gain a little more experience.

“That leadership side of it comes out a little bit more in team meetings and helping guys coming into the side to get settled.

“As far as captaining, potentially, but I have not tried to give it too much thought.

“The most important thing is scoring runs. You have to make sure you are in the side and you’re performing well. The rest takes care of itself.”

In terms of figures, Root amassed another 900 runs in Test cricket in the summer, including a best of 254 against Pakistan at Old Trafford, and the 1,000 mark will surely be neared in the Bangladesh series.

Such performances have kept England fourth in the world rankings, and although an opportunity to move up was missed in the drawn series against Pakistan, Root reckons further chances will present themselves in an era of uncertainty at the top of game.

Root says: “It’s a very exciting time in international cricket at the moment where there’s a band of five or six teams on similar ranking points so it could interchange very quickly.

“You will see that tag switch hands on a couple of occasions over the next couple of months and years. It’s a good place for cricket to be. There’s good competition and it seems like anyone can beat anyone on their day, which is what you want.

“You want to make sure you’re playing the best cricket possible and that’s an exciting place to be.”

Root’s ambitions to captain his country will depend on how long Cook decides to stay at the helm.

Despite the pressures and criticisms he has had at times during his spell in control, there is little to suggest Cook will hang up his navy blue blazer and allow a comrade to proceed to the toss any time soon.

“Why would you when he’s playing the way he is?” Root muses.

“The best thing, playing under Cooky, is that he is a great role model and a great person to learn from.

“The way he goes about his business, whether it’s captaincy or batting, or the way he attacks his training sessions, it really does set an example to the rest of the whole group of guys.

“That’s something you look at and want to emulate and pass down when you’re in a similar position.

“He has been outstanding and his leadership has been, too. I’m sure there will be plenty more years of playing under him.”

As great an influence as Cook has been, outgoing Yorkshire coach Jason Gillespie has been prevalent in Root’s emergence as one of the world’s greatest strokemakers.

There is little to compare between the pair’s playing style, although they both have a Test double-hundred, but both operate with a relaxed tone and a expression of freedom.

Root says: “Dizzy just got the players to go out there and relax. Not to overthink things too much because sometimes you can over-complicate the game.

“He has been very good at keeping things simple and allowing players to go out there and express themselves on the field and take a bit more responsibility personally.

“You’ve seen a few of the guys that have done that, and young guys coming into the team have matured very quickly.

“Everyone underneath him has seemed to take what he has said forward and up a level.

“Hopefully, that can continue after he has gone. It’s obviously very sad that he is moving on but he is going to do good things wherever he goes. He is a good man and a very good coach.”

Due to the England constraints, Root has been a bystander in what proved a year of promise and frustration for the White Rose.

But two semi-finals in white-ball competitions represented progress, which Root believes will continue in Gillespie’s absence.

“I am sure we will survive,” Root laughs. “One thing that he has installed is player responsibility and being able to look after yourself.

“With Andrew Gale being a very good captain as well, he will be very good at making that transition easy for whoever does come in. The guys all work well together.

“I don’t think too much will change. It’s going to be a shame that he won’t be there any more but with the guys that make up the team, I’d like to think that too much won’t change.”

Joe Root was speaking as he launched a new Village Hotels Pub Quiz. To enter log on at VillageHotelClub.com/PubQuiz