Cricket: Joe Root jets off to India as speculation over England captaincy continues

Joe Root
Joe Root
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Joe Root set off for India today still awaiting a formal decision on whether he will soon be England's new Test captain.

Alastair Cook, after four years and a record 59 matches, remains in post at present, but has been pondering his future since a 4-0 series defeat in India before Christmas.

Should he decide that, at 32 and with an exacting Ashes tour less than a year away, the time is right to return to the ranks, Root will step up from vice-captain uncontested.

The 26-year-old Yorkshire batsman became a father for the first time on Saturday, delaying his departure for the limited-overs series which begins in Pune on Sunday, but any hopes of having the issue resolved before he set off have passed. Root is due to land in Mumbai in the early hours of Thursday morning (IST) and could conceivably take the field in a warm-up match against India A within a matter of hours.

Cook will meet his old opening partner and current ECB director of cricket Andrew Strauss soon to complete the usual post-series debrief, with his own leadership a pressing issue.

There is no appetite at the ECB to force Cook's hand and support for his continued leadership, from both management and playing staff, appears genuine rather mere lip service to a man who still wields considerable authority at the organisation.

The repeated refrain is that the decision is Cook's to make and, with no Test cricket until July, there is no hard deadline. It is understood that Cook has not sought counsel from senior team-mates, though it is hard to lean firmly in either direction on that information.

Yet a verdict must surely be forthcoming sooner rather than later. If Cook has had enough of the spotlight, something that seemed increasingly likely as he gave a weary assessment of his position at the end of the Test series, he and the side gain little by delaying the inevitable transition of power.

If, on the other hand, a Christmas break at home with his family has strengthened his resolve - something wife Alice has achieved on at least two occasions in the past - he would be well advised to draw a line under the ongoing speculation.

His status can only diminish if he leaves the question open for weeks or months. Root sent a solitary tweet on Wednesday morning before jetting out to Mumbai, reading: "Thank you for all the lovely messages over the past few days! It's been simply amazing, couldn't be prouder!".

It is the kind of message he could conceivably pen after inheriting the blazer, though the addition of a baby emoji indicated he was merely basking in the safe arrival of Alfred.

Root will lead his country and even Cook has admitted his deputy is ready to do so, but the elder man has held on after wobbles before, notably after the 2013/14 Ashes whitewash. Even Neil Fairbrother, the former England and Lancashire batsman who now works as director of cricket at ISM, the management company who look after Root as well as several of his international team-mates, believes Cook could yet recommit to the role.

In a blog dated January 3, Fairbrother wrote: "Alasdair Cook (sic) is not only a fantastic Test match batsman with a stubborn streak for scoring runs, he is also capable, as we have already seen, of picking himself up, dusting himself down and moving forward when all seems lost.

"As time goes forward into January, and no doubt the captain's pain is receding by the day, I guess it less and less likely that he may retire from tossing the coin."

Whether it is Cook or Root who will flip with Faf du Plessis when South Africa visit Lord's in July remains to be seen and while one deliberates, the other waits.