England star Joe Root heads back to school ahead of third Ashes Test victory

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After their thrashing at the hands of Australia in the second Ashes Test match at Lord’s, England’s players were told to spend some time away from the game.

Some relaxed completely; others played golf. Captain Alistair Cook, a keen country boy, probably spent some time on his farm.

His vice-captain and star player, Joe Root, went back to school; paying a visit to King Ecgbert, his old stomping ground in the south-west of Sheffield.

Root made the trip home at the behest of Cricket United, a charity which helps change the lives of young children through the game. But the visit served a cathartic purpose, too; reminding him of why he plays the game.

After all, he admitted recently, he would still turn out for Sheffield Collegiate CC every Saturday if he wasn’t playing for England, paying his match fee and playing for the love.

‘There are times when you miss home and all that, but there are things in everybody’s job or work that frustrate them,” he says, of life as a constantly on-the-road international cricketer.

“But it’s unbelievable to get to do something that you’d pay to do if you weren’t a professional. I never forget how lucky I am to get paid for doing something
I love and I’d never consider doing anything else while I have the chance to play cricket.”

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Order, as far as England are concerned, anyway, was restored in the third Test at Edgbaston, when England’s stunning bowling performance - from Jimmy Anderson and Steven Finn, in particular - blew the Australians away on the first day, and helped set up an eight-wicket victory inside three days. But Root, arguably, once again was England’s star man with the bat, top-scoring with a 75-ball 63 to keep the hosts in the first-innings ascendancy; his stunning, one-handed slip catch to dismiss Josh Hazlewood on Friday was truly special. In the second innings, after a nervy England had lost two wickets, he crashed his first ball, off Hazlewood, through the covers for four, almost nonchalantly.

A 16-year-old Root, in 2007, told this newspaper that he “very much likes the tidy way Ian Bell bats”. Eight years on, they were together, in the middle of an Ashes Test match.

Joe Root

Joe Root

And with more Test scores of 50+ than any other player on the planet, no doubt Bell approves of Root’s technique, too.He is some player.

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Peter Maw first realised that when King Ecgbert faced Birkdale in a schools cricket match. Maw was the cricket master at King Ecgbert at the time, and his side were chasing 120 from their 20 overs.

“That was quite a stiff ask at that age,” he told the Daily Express.

England's Joe Root and Ian Bell celebrate victory over  Australia  during day three of the Third Investec Ashes Test at Edgbaston

England's Joe Root and Ian Bell celebrate victory over Australia during day three of the Third Investec Ashes Test at Edgbaston

“But what made Joe stand out as a schoolboy was his mental approach.

“He had a feeling for the game that you rarely saw in adults let alone kids. He could just read the game and between overs, he would check with me what the run rate required was.

“A lot of kids would have panicked and played a rash shot but Joe had a game plan. He’d block four or five balls, and hit the bad one for four. We won with three or four balls to spare, and Joe was not out.

“He was blessed with a great technique - I wouldn’t take any credit for that, he came to us with that - but it made it very hard for other sides to get him out.”

Joe jokes that he was annoyed one year, after missing out on his school’s sports award to a girl from a few years above. Her name was Jessica Ennis.

“The first time I came across her was when we had a School Sports Personality event,” Root said.

Joe Root became the youngest player to receive a Yorkshire County Cricket club scholarship

Joe Root became the youngest player to receive a Yorkshire County Cricket club scholarship

“I was only 11 but I was nominated and so was Jessica. She won it, and I thought ‘how have I Iost to someone who does athletics?’

“I was a bit gutted about it, and then a couple of years later you saw her in the World Championships and Commonwealth Games - and now she’s won a gold medal in the Olympics, so I suppose it was fair enough.”

“There wasn’t quite the screaming when Joe returned to do a Q and A and some coaching as when Jess came back,” Maw added.

“But I think Joe’s achievement is on a par if not better than Jess’s at the Olympics.

“Just the sheer speed of it.

“At his leaving assembly I remember saying to him that I expected to be watching him opening the batting for England at Headingley one day. It has all happened so quickly - it’s quite astounding.”

Root did eventually open the batting for England, but it is in the middle-order where he has found his feet in international cricket. A stunning 18 months saw him star for England in all three formats of the game, and landing the Test vice-captaincy role showed his growing influence in the set-up.

The 24-year-old comes across as a positive, happy-go-lucky and angelic lad, a cherubic grin masking a steely determination to succeed in international cricket.

In his early England days, Root fumbled a ball in the field and was chided by a senior player. At the next drinks break, according to a player at the time, the Yorkshireman told those present not to speak to him like that again.

Such confidence only gets you so far, however, if you struggle to back it up with runs. But Root - with over 7,000 international runs for England - doesn’t have that problem.

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To say Root was destined to play for England since birth - he was pictured at one day old, with a bat in his hand - may be an exaggeration, but his ability has been an open secret for some time now.

He scored his first century aged 11, and monopolised the batting in the playground of Dore Primary School.

First, he was made to bat left-handed to even the odds. Then, with one eye shut. Hopping on one leg.

Only when he was batting on one leg, left handed and with both eyes shut, were they able to get him out.

With the form he’s in, Australia must be wishing they could make him do the same.