His battle with the world’s No. 1 ranked batsmen may help shape the outcome of this summer’s Ashes.
But Sheffield’s ‘freakish’ Joe Root has been backed to get the better of Steve Smith when England’s eagerly-awaited series against Australia gets underway today, at Cardiff.
Root, England’s vice-captain, has scored 2,928 international runs - at an average of over 82 - since he was dropped the last time England faced Australia, in Sydney 18 months ago.
Only two players - New Zealand’s Kane Williamson (3,440) and Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara (3,950) - have scored more in that period and Chris Jordan, Root’s England team-mate, said: “Joe’s a freak at the minute. He just keeps churning out the runs.
“He’s an unbelievable talent and what’s really showing is that he is doing it in all three forms of the game. And it looks effortless.
“He’s putting in so much work behind the scenes to maintain this form and I can only see it continuing.
“We’ve got lots of talented players; Gary Ballance, Ian Bell and a captain [Alastair Cook] who is in brilliant form and they will all be needed.
“It won’t be solely down to Joe but if he continues batting the way he is, I can’t see why it can’t be anything other than a win.”
Jordan, who will miss the Ashes with a side strain, added: “The way he plays is a sign of a great player.
“His aura at the crease is calming, he plays with authority and the rest of the guys in the team feed off it and get energy from it.
“That’s his superpower if you like - he gets guys going, he gets them feeding off him to produce performances of their own.
“He’s a freak at the minute and a real class player who will go on and do it for years to come.”
Root v Smith, in numbers; by Rory Dollard, PA Sport
AGE - Root: 24. Smith: 26.
His aura at the crease is calming, he plays with authority and the rest of the guys in the team feed off it and get energy from it. That’s his superpower if you like - he gets guys going, he gets them feeding off him to produce performances of their own. He’s a freak at the minute and a real class player who will go on and do it for years to come.Chris Jordan, England
TEST CAPS - Root: 27. Smith: 28.
TEST CENTURIES - Root: 6. Smith: 9.
AVERAGE - Root: 54.11. Smith: 56.23
WORLD RANKING - Root: 6. Smith: 1.
FORM - In the year leading up to the Ashes opener, Smith has pocketed a staggering 1226 runs in just eight Tests. That run contains five centuries, an average of 102.16 and a top score of 199 against West Indies in Domenica. Root has played two more matches, making 1059 runs in the same period. He averages 81.46, with three tons and a high of 182 not out.
TEMPERAMENT - Both men have reputations for seeing the lighter side of the game. Smith memorably suggested during the 2013 Ashes that he had been recalled partially to bring some levity to the Australian squad, while Root at times appears to epitomise the cheeky Yorkshire chappie. But make no mistake, the pair are serious, dedicated cricketers and it is not their joke-telling capabilities that have seen them become vice-captains of their respective nations.
STRENGTHS - Root is a wonderful partner for any top-order batsman, taking the scoring pressure away by rotating the strike without undue risk and running with intent to maximise value. He is also England’s most adaptible player in terms of shifting through the gears as the situation dictates. For his part, Smith has meticulously harnessed his own strong suit - clubbing the ball hard through the on-side. He unashamedly gets into position to pick his chosen gaps and does so with alarming regularity. Much improved in defence too.
WEAKNESS - England have already fired the first verbal barbs against Smith, with Stuart Broad suggesting his homespun technique may not be best suited to his new position of number three. To test that theory England need to remove one of the Australian openers early and for the ball to be swinging. Root, meanwhile, floundered in Australia in the 2013/14 whitewash, ending the series dropped for the only time in his career. Is there mental scarring or does the added pace of the Baggy Greens attack enable them to exploit a tendency to play away from the body?
BOWLING - It seems unlikely that Root or Smith will win the series for their side courtesy of their efforts with ball in hand, but each man will have a role to play as back-up spinner. Smith once harboured higher hopes than that, having been touted as the new Shane Warne and initially picked as a specialist leggie. Now more likely to send down pick-n-mix assortment of wicket-takers and freebies in short spells. Root is a tidier bowler and tries fewer tricks. Will be used to support Moeen Ali, but his ability to drift the ball through the air cannot be discounted.