Danny Hall Column: England’s star man Joe plotting his own Root to Ashes glory

Joe Root
Joe Root
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Joe Root pauses for a second, before thinking back to his time as a schoolboy at King Ecgbert School, watching Michael Vaughan and Co. tackle the Australians in the Ashes.

He remembers the game gripping the nation; he sensed a surge of people getting behind England’s heroes and inspiring them to victory in perhaps the greatest series of them all. It was then that Root decided a life of cricket was for him.

“Michael Vaughan smacked them everywhere in the 2002-03 series, even though we didn’t quite manage to do it that year...” Root says, recalling Vaughan’s 633 runs in an otherwise-forgettable 4-1 series defeat with a glint in his eye.

“But it is 2005 that really stands out.

“I was 14 at the time - and to grow up in that era, watching one of the greatest series in Test history, definitely made me want to pursue cricket and play Ashes cricket especially, because the atmosphere was incredible. The country really got behind England. That’s something we want to recreate over the coming summer.”

They made a decent start of that yesterday as Root racked up a rapid century on day one at Cardiff, rescuing England from a potentially precarious position of 43-3 early on in Cardiff. In tandem with Yorkshire colleague Gary Ballance - who has come a long way since his days playing club cricket with Barnsley CC - Root punished Australia’s quick attack with a series of lush drives, which are quick becoming his trademark.

The Cardiff crowd lapped it up. Ten years after watching his most memorable series on television, Root was out there in the middle himself. Making Ashes history of his own.

That England triumph, ten years ago, ended a period of Green and Gold dominance which saw Australia’s invention and industry deliver eight straight Ashes series wins. In the six since, England have triumphed four times; including Root’s first taste of the Ashes in 2013, which saw him hit a special 180 at Lord’s.

His second experience was not quite as pleasant - he batted almost five hours for 87 in the second Test in Adelaide but was dropped for the fifth, in Sydney, as England suffered a 5-0 Test whitewash.

A succession of defeats in the one-day arena then saw their overall tour record swing to 12-1 in Australia’s favour.

England's Joe Root bats during the First Investec Ashes Test at the SWALEC Stadium, Cardiff.

England's Joe Root bats during the First Investec Ashes Test at the SWALEC Stadium, Cardiff.

“Joe called me from Sydney and told me the news that he’d been dropped,” his father, Matt, recalls.

“He was gutted to miss that final Ashes Test but not too down on himself. He vowed then that if he came back, he would make it much harder to drop him again.”

And how he has.

In the 18 months between that phone call and Wednesday’s first Test, Root cut, pulled and ramp-scooped his way to 2,928 international runs, with only two players in world cricket - New Zealand’s Kane Williamson and Kumar Sangakkara, of Sri Lanka - having scored more. The sheer weight of runs, as well as his calm demeanor, cricket brain and apparent destiny to inherit the top job from Alistair Cook, saw him installed as England’s vice-captain and he goes into the Ashes series as arguably his side’s best chance of winning it.

The Cardiff crowd lapped it up. Ten years after watching his most memorable series on television whilst at school, Root was out there in the middle himself... making Ashes history of his own.

His match-up with the Steve Smith - Australia’s man in form and currently the world’s No.1 batsman - is an intriguing one; both are their side’s vice-skippers and although Smith is two years older, at 26, he has just one more cap than Root and his Test average is two runs higher.

If Root wins the battle against his opposite number, England will have a healthy chance of wrestling back the Ashes. This is a prodigiously-talented young man with a stubborn streak, who feels he has a point to prove. So don’t rush to back against him.

“We’re a proud nation, I’m a proud person - and there’s a lot of lads in that dressing room who have a point to prove,” he said.

“It was a bit of a disaster what happened over there, and we’re desperate to put it right. Our first opportunity to do that is here, now, and we’ve started this summer well.

“You want to be able to look back on your career and say: ‘I was a part of that’... that’s something I will always remember from winning in summer 2013 - how special it felt.

“I want to recreate that feeling of being at The Oval and lifting the urn. Hopefully not just once, but a few more times.”

England's Joe Root reaches his 50 during the First Investec Ashes Test at the SWALEC Stadium, Cardiff.

England's Joe Root reaches his 50 during the First Investec Ashes Test at the SWALEC Stadium, Cardiff.

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Brian Bradley was not a natural writer. His weekly column in these pages often came in three times longer than it should have. If he was to write his own obituary, it’d probably fill the sports section.

But a man with Bradders’ non-league stature and knowledge was always going to struggle to contain his copy every week. His last column for us signed off: It all starts again in seven weeks. So I will see you all then.But, after he sadly passed away last week, he never will.

What he didn’t know about local players and clubs wasn’t worth knowing and the non-league scene in these parts will miss him dearly.

As will we. Rest in peace, Bradders.