Four years have passed since Joe Root’s nightmare tour of Australia and much in his life has changed.
The 26-year-old is a father to baby Alfie and fiancé to partner Carrie. He has ascended from promising junior player to batting superstar and England Test captain. To confirm his maturity, he’s even made a breakthrough with facial hair, posing at Lord’s with the Ashes urn with a noticeably stubbly chin.
Among the modifications, though, there’s a constant, nagging need for redemption. In 2013/14, Root was 22, only 11 matches into his Text career, and, like the rest of his England colleagues, found Australia’s Mitchell Johnson simply too hot to handle.
England lost all 20 wickets in each of the five Tests for the first time in history. England - unbeaten in 13 Tests beforehand - fell 5-0 to an Australian side that had lost seven of their previous nine. Root found himself shunted from number six in the order up to three. He averaged 27, managed a best of 87 and was dropped.
“It’s something I never want to experience again,” he says, his usual smile disappearing as he remembers being left out of the England side in Sydney.
“I’d had a taste of playing for England and I didn’t know if it would ever come again. But sport will give you hard times, and that was something I had to overcome. I had a tough tour and found it quite hard over there, I can’t deny that, and ultimately it cost me my place in the team.
“I had to come away and find a way to get myself back in the team, but it was a big learning curve for what came afterwards. I learned a lot about myself, about my game. I knew what I needed to do to get back into form and back into the side and I took my opportunity.
“Since then, I’ve not looked back. It’s been something that’s been in the back of my mind since I got the captain’s job so, hopefully, it’ll be slightly different this time around.”
Root will be different too. He’s relaxing into captaincy after inheriting the top job from Alastair Cook earlier in the year, having had time to get used to the promotion before summer series wins over South Africa and West Indies at home.
We meet at Headingley, the scene of his inauguration in February and much more besides. Root took his formative cricketing steps at local club Sheffield Collegiate where dad Matt, brother Billy - now a professional at Nottinghamshire - and Michael Vaughan all played, but it was at Yorkshire’s home ground where his career was forged.
Kevin Sharp, the former Yorkshire coach, remembers hitting an 11-year-old Root on the helmet after being asked to conduct the same batting drill as he had for senior Tykes pro Anthony McGrath. Root’s first-team Yorkshire debut came at Headingley, as did his first Test century for England.
West Indies chased down 322 to win by five wickets and deny Root’s England victory in his first Test as captain on the famous old ground, but no matter.
After looking a little startled by the sheer scale of media attention in his first Press briefing as England skipper, he is an engaging subject, sharp, eloquent and still possessing a mischievous side, recognising the accent of this newspaper’s Australian photographer and pouncing on it almost as quickly as he would a wide half-volley at the crease.
But behind the smart England suit and cherubic smile, there is an inner steel to Root’s personality that explains his ascension far better than stats ever could, although - with 4,369 Test runs at an average of almost 60 since being dropped and earning back his place - they make for pretty impressive reading.
I’d had a taste of playing for England and I didn’t know if it would ever come again. But sport will give you hard times, and that was something I had to overcome.Joe Root, England captain
Tagged as the joker in the pack almost right from the very beginning - he remembers pouring peri-peri sauce in Ben Stokes’ Coke at Nando’s when they were under-15s and later developed a penchant for cutting holes in teammates’ clothes - Root is good company. But cricket is his comfort zone and he admits he can sometimes come across as a bit of an introverted character.
Attention of the wrong kind followed him in 2013 when Australian batsman David Warner punched him in a Birmingham bar. Root rejects the version of the story that came out, but preferred to do his talking - like his hitting - on the field.
That year, his first reunion with Australia since England were hammered and he was dropped, Root was Man of the Series in a 3-0 win which reclaimed the urn.
Now, 12 years after he bunked off school to watch Vaughan lift the Ashes in 2005, he’s leading the charge to do likewise.
“Last time out in Australia was rock bottom,” Root admits. “It showed me what it felt like to be there and drove me on to never experience it again. Nothing in cricket could be worse than that, so it made me a better player.
“I’m a different player and person to the last time I went there. And that excites me.”
Perhaps typically for an England tour to Australia, things haven’t gone swimmingly for Root before he led his side out in Brisbane overnight. Injuries to Steven Finn, Toby Roland-Jones, Mark Wood and Jake Ball, and a scare over Moeen Ali’s fitness, have hampered preparations, while the skipper has been robbed of his best player and right-hand man, vice-captain Stokes.
Stokes remains in England and awaiting the outcome of a police investigation, after a brawl outside a nightclub in Bristol. The player broke his hand, was arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm and has been suspended while police investigate.
Stokes’ case was hardly helped when CCTV footage of the incident ended up on the website of a national newspaper, and Root admits he has seen the video footage.
“It’s not nice to see, is it?” he admitted.
“It’s not been easy for me. We’re part of a team. It’s obviously been a tough time for Ben and his family. You want to make sure you are there for your friends.
“A lot of the time he is quite quiet. It has been a disappointing and horrible situation, but I wouldn’t say that is a fair representation of Ben as a person.”
Root, conscious of his elevated position at a time when more eyes would be on his private life than ever, elected to miss England teammate Jos Buttler’s stag do, held in Amsterdam, although he and a host of England teammates were present when Stokes married fiancee Clare Ratcliffe in October.
The Stokes affair will have hardly been ideal preparation for a new captain still finding his feet in the job, but at least there is no Johnson waiting to greet Root at the Gabba.The left-arm paceman has long hung up his bowling boots and the moustache that terrified them in 2013/14 is no more.
Instead, England face the likes of Josh Hazelwood, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc, a former teammate of Root’s at Yorkshire who made history recently by taking two hat-tricks in the same Sheffield Shield game.
There’s also a familiar face in the form of Australian coach Darren Lehmann, who played for Yorkshire when the England skipper was coming through the Headingley age groups and who later granted Root a scholarship at his Adelaide cricket academy in 2010.
But Root has been denied a fairytale reunion with English-born Matt Renshaw, who was left out of the Australian squad for the first Test but could yet play a part in the Ashes against his old pal.
Renshaw, now 21, was born in Middlesbrough but his family moved to New Zealand when he was young, before settling in Brisbane.
Ian Renshaw, Matt’s father, spent a season playing with Collegiate and opened the batting with Joe’s dad, Matt.
The two youngsters forged a similar partnership on the sidelines.
“I haven’t seen Matt since he was about seven or eight,” Root smiles.
“He got a bit stroppy when I got him out back then, but I think he might have grown up a little bit since. To be fair, I was probably hogging the bat a bit much as usual.
“The time at Darren’s academy was great. I spent six months in Adelaide and came back from that winter and ended up making my first-class debut for Yorkshire.
Within a year, Root was called up for England.
“It was a really good experience for me and really developed me a lot as a player and as a person,” he says.
Only nine England captains have won the Ashes in Australia since the start of the 20th century.
Root will hope his experiences stand him in good stead as he looks to make it a perfect ten.