Cricket: England captain Joe Root goes back to basics with old pal Josh Varley from Sheffield Collegiate in bid to rediscover best form with bat
England captain Joe Root has gone back to basics to rediscover his best form with the bat, linking up with a friend from boyhood club Sheffield Collegiate for informal coaching sessions.
Root has been handed an extended break from England duties after an exhausting schedule, rested from the forthcoming Twenty20 series in New Zealand before returning to lead the red-ball side against the Black Caps.
And he has been using his time to tinker with his game, having managed only one Test ton in 18 innings in 2019.
There is no shortage of high-pedigree help available in the England or Yorkshire set-ups but Root has instead sought out an old associate at his family's local team in the Steel City.
"I've done three sessions and used the head coach at Sheffield Collegiate. He's called Josh Varley and he's younger than me," said Root.
"From the age of 12 or 13 we've thrown balls at each other, all day every day down at Abbeydale. We've been doing a bit of work together, not much technical stuff but he's been doing a lot of flinging.
"We've also been down to Denstone College to use the facilities there, where (former Yorkshire wicketkeeper) Simon Guy is head of cricket. Starting out he was a bit of a mentor to me and he knows my game like the back of his hand.
"I wanted to work on a few things so it's been good to get back into it. I want to start the winter with a bang and set a marker in terms of making big scores and leading from the front."
Root had a top score of 77 in the summer's drawn Ashes series and also bagged three ducks, a contribution far beneath his own high standards, and has taken the chance to cast his net a little wider than usual to find a remedy.
"I'm throwing ideas around, using people outside of the bubble. Getting different points of view and different ways of looking at things is nice," he said.
"I do brilliant work with (England batting coach) Graham Thorpe but every now and again when you're out of it, it's quite nice to go to other people.
"I think four years ago was the last time I had a break this long and that's because I broke a thumb.
"So to have a break, working on things without the pressure of a game in a week's time is invaluable."
Despite appreciating the chance to take a step off the treadmill, Root realises his absence for the next five matches represents a risk.
While still the fulcrum of the five-day side, he is no longer a guaranteed selection for the sprint format with a year to go to the next Twenty20 World Cup.
He was England's top-scorer when they finished runners-up in the 2016 final but with plenty of talent coming up underneath, the competition for places in heating up.
Somerset's rising star Tom Banton was among those on the long flight to Christchurch for England's Monday departure and the uncapped batsman will surely get his chance to stake his claim for next year's tournament - a challenge Root relishes.
"If someone like Tom comes in and sets the world alight and I've got to try and force him out in the limited opportunities I get to play then it's going to raise the standard of England cricket in that format," he said.
"For me, I just have to keep improving and getting better and it will raise the bar for the team.
"That's the food chain that cricket is sometimes. You've got to be at the top of it or you'll get swept away and eaten up."