Joe Root says decision to be positive put England on the front foot
Joe Root believes his approach to captaincy is already beginning to permeate among his England team after their 211‑run win at Lord’s against South Africa started his reign in style – an example of the players delivering his pre-match orders to be proactive.
While Moeen Ali’s first 10-wicket Test match and his own 190 with the bat in the first innings were the standout performances in securing a 1-0 lead, Root credited the entire team for their efforts and immediately named an unchanged squad for the second Test at Trent Bridge starting on Friday.
“I didn’t know what to expect but what was pleasing was everything I asked of the lads they were very open to do and responded to it,” Root said. “I wanted us to be proactive, to stay ahead of the game and when there was an opportunity, to take responsibility. Everyone at certain points did that and it can’t be a bad thing moving forward.”
Beyond the overall team orders, a more specific instruction was telling Moeen to consider himself as an attacking bowler and one who seeks a more aggressive line without worrying about economy. Saqlain Mushtaq, England’s spin-bowling coach, also worked with him on his shape and mindset after a tough winter tour to India.
The reward for this, on a dry Lord’s surface, was the Worcestershire all-rounder’s six for 53 to seal the win – the best figures by an England spinner bowling in a fourth‑innings victory charge since Derek Underwood’s seven for 32 against New Zealand on the same ground in 1969.
Root said: “When Moeen is at his best is when he’s aggressive – he gets great shape on the ball, puts a lot of revs on it and makes it difficult to line him up. The lines he bowled this week in the foot holes were outstanding. He’ll always tell you he feels he’s a batter who bowls but that’s the great thing about our top seven – we have two really good bowling options with him and Ben Stokes and that’s a real luxury. It was great to see him be so positive and it gives us great depth in our side.”
Root described the 119 for one that his top three of Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings and Gary Ballance put together on the third evening as “worth double” on that Lord’s pitch – a point underlined when England collapsed to 233 all out – and said the ninth-wicket stand of 45 from Jonny Bairstow and Mark Wood was another example of the proactivity he wanted.
Having been dubbed “Craptain” by his Yorkshire team-mates when Middlesex chased down 472 under his watch at Lord’s in 2014, there was some relief for Root when South Africa’s batsmen then began to flounder. “It’s nice to get that [nickname] out of the way,” he said with a smile.
Some relief for South Africa came with the sight of their captain, Faf du Plessis, strolling around the boundary rope en route to the Nursery End for a net session in the morning session after flying in overnight following the birth of his first child.
Dean Elgar, who stood in for Du Plessis, admitted he learned a lot about leadership, not least the crushing feeling when chances go down, such as the two lives afforded to Root on the first morning when on five and 16. “These are the punches you take,” he said.
South Africa will have to shuffle their attack for the Trent Bridge Test with fast bowler Kagiso Rabada banned for one match that was triggered by the industrial send-off towards Ben Stokes on the first day that took him to four demerit points on his disciplinary record.
Elgar, who covered Rabada’s mouth when he removed Stokes lbw in the second innings, said: “It’s a big loss for everything – the Proteas and Test cricket. He’s a vitally important bowler in our attack – he adds an aggression that’s important to get those breakthroughs. I hope he learns from this, he’s missing a game, he’s let the team down and himself down – that could work in his favour as a person. I do know he’s apologised to us but he is deeply hurt by the ban.”
South Africa’s preparations this week will also be hampered by the absence of their head coach, Russell Domingo, who has returned home with his mother on life support in hospital after a car accident.