Joe Root’s 2017 finally gets underway tomorrow after a delayed, yet welcome start to what could end up becoming the most memorable year of his life.
The 26-year-old England star became a father for the first time a week ago, when fiancé Carrie gave birth to Alfred William. Cue a welcome few days at home with his young family, before belatedly meeting up with his England teammates on their ODI tour of India.
Root is expected to slot back at number three for tomorrow’s opener, in Pune, but bigger things almost certainly await this year.
Alastair Cook appears on the brink of resigning as England’s Test skipper, after four years and a record 59 games in charge, with Root his deputy and uncontested favourite for the top job.
Cook met with Andrew Strauss, his old opening partner and now the ECB’s director of cricket, yesterday for a debrief after England’s disastrous tour of India before Christmas, which saw them lose 4-0.
There appears to be no appetite for the ECB to force Cook to resign, and he retains the support of the England dressing room both publicly and privately.
But Cook, who turned 32 on Christmas Day is known to want a few more years as an England player, without the captaincy, as he chases down Sachin Tendulkar’s Test record of 15,921 runs, and a punishing tour of Australia to renew old Ashes rivalries looms large on the winter horizon.
Cook’s men lost 5-0 there last time out, in 2013/14, and if there is to be a change of skipper now, then Root will at least have summer series against South Africa and West Indies to prepare before the ultimate test of facing Australia in their own back garden.
But Christmas at home may have stiffened the resolve of Cook, a notoriously stubborn character, and with the first Test of the summer not until July, time is hardly of the essence.
As such, no announcement is expected until after the ODI tour of India and so, Root’s immediate thoughts can instead turn to facing India in the ODI series and hoping for revenge after their Test disaster.
The former Sheffield Collegiate man’s form was one of the few positives from that series - he scored 491 runs, including one century - and he arrives in India as a key member of Eoin Morgan’s ODI and T20 squads - so much so that Sam Billings, who smashed a classy 93 in the first warm-up game earlier in the week, admitted that he fully expected to make way for Root.
“It’s a great thing for English cricket to have Joe Root coming back into the side and Ben Stokes coming back into the side...they’re two of the best in the world,” Billings said.
“It’s a strong squad and they make the team even stronger.
“You can’t really afford to be disappointed or feel sorry for yourself, it’s professional sport. Joe Root is one of the best batsmen in the world, top three without a doubt.”
Morgan himself returns to lead England, after electing not to join the tour of Bangladesh due to security concerns, and the skipper said: “We always consider [managing Root’s workload] because Joe is first on the list to be rested if there is an opportunity.
“We feel given this is a short series and we have three weeks at home before the West Indies tour, that the lead in to our summer is pretty casual really when you look at the international calendar and the opportunity for him to rest.
“So there’s always the debate and we feel at the moment there’s enough rest between now and the Champions Trophy for him to feel fresh at the start of June.”
How they will need him to be - especially as it seems a case of when, not if, he is confirmed as the next captain of his country.
Root timeline: 2004: Root makes Yorkshire history as youngest player to be given a scholarship, at just 13. He’d scored his first century at aged 11
2006: Made his debut for Sheffield Collegiate’s first team in the Yorkshire League, alongside dad Matt
2007: Debuts for Yorkshire’s Academy and the seconds
2008: Scored 122 not out for the Academy against Scotland U19s
2009: Hit an unbeaten 163 as Yorkshire’s seconds chased down 401 against Leicester. He shared a partnership of 358 with Jonny Bairstow, a future England teammate who finished 201 not out
2009: Made his Yorkshire first-team debut in a 40-over game at Headingley against Essex. In the Essex side that day was Alastair Cook, and Root hit 63. Named man of the series in England’s U19 tour to Bangladesh
2009: Scored an unbeaten 122 for the Academy in a one-day match against Scotland under 19s
2010: Shone at the U19 World Cup
2011: Made his Championship debut for Yorkshire and played for England Lions at Scarborough, making 66. He scored his first Championship ton on the same ground later in that month, and finished the season with over 1,000 runs.
2012: Scored tons for the Lions against Sri Lanka and against West Indies. Scored a double-hundred for Yorkshire against Hampshire, and was capped
2012: Named as PCA’s and Cricket Writers Club’s Young Player of the Year, and made his Test debut for England - scoring 73
2013: A first Test hundred, fittingly at Headingley, against New Zealand. He then became the youngest England player to score an Ashes ton at the Home of Cricket with 180 against Australia
2014: Scored his maiden ODI ton against West Indies, batting with a broken thumb. Named in the ICC’s Test Team of the Year.
2015: Hit 1,278 Test runs - making him the No.1 batsman in the world
2015: Became England’s Test vice-captain, and won the Ashes for the second time. Named Man of the Series
2016: Helped England reach the final of the World Twenty20 and scored more Tets runs than anyone on the planet, including 254 - his highest score so far - against Pakistan at Old Trafford
2017: Becomes a father for the first time as his fiancé Carrie gives birth to a little boy