Joe Root is back and England need his runs to fight back against West Indies | Vic Marks

By on July 16, 2020

Not to worry. Joe’s back. It is not that England were rudderless at the Ageas Bowl and missing Root’s dynamic leadership. But they were missing his runs. Root is the best batsman in the team, so at Old Trafford on Thursday there is every chance that compiling a significant score will not be such a tortuous exercise for an England side in the uncomfortable position of being 1-0 down in a three-match series.

Admittedly Root has not batted in the middle since January on the tour of South Africa, having been absent not only for the first Test against West Indies but also the practice match beforehand. But he will be fresh and invigorated. His presence enhances the chances of a significant innings from an English batsman. At the Ageas Bowl, which was hardly a minefield, there were just two half-centuries for England from Dominic Sibley (50) and Zak Crawley (76). No wonder they lost.

Lack of runs rather than leadership was the issue. Ben Stokes looked comfortable as captain in that Test. In the field he was clearly in charge and relaxed and the permutations he used generally made sense. And he played well. However, he made an endearingly humble observation at the end, only half in jest – “I can see why Joe loses a lot of sleep.”

When runs are scarce this captaincy lark is not quite as simple as it looks, a fact which highlights the achievements of Jason Holder over the past four years.

Holder is a rare bird. His record as a Test captain is modest by the basic criteria of results – 33 games in charge of West Indies, of which 11 have been won and 17 lost – yet he is justifiably lauded by everyone. Few captains with that kind of record have managed that, and still he manages to carry his authority so lightly.

Holder does not have so many complications before the contest resumes at 11 o’clock on Thursday for three reasons: he has just won a Test; they only have to play three games; and they do not have as many alternatives as England so the impetus to rotate is minimised. Make that four reasons since Holder has also explained how much he enjoys the variety at his disposal in his pace bowling attack.

“We’ve got Kemar [Roach] who’s shorter, more skilled and tends to be very nagging in terms of his length and line. Then there’s Shannon [Gabriel], a tearaway quick, who can rattle top orders but also come back and hit a really hard length consistently. Alzarri [Joseph] is a young, up-and-coming fast bowler; he’s got some pace, he does a bit with the ball as well. And then you’ve got me with my height and ability to bowl longer spells, to plug up one end, and also be a wicket-taking threat. So we complement each other quite well.”

England Burns, Sibley, Crawley, Root, Stokes, Pope, Buttler, Woakes, Bess, Archer, Broad.

West Indies Brathwaite, Campbell, Hope, Brooks, Chase, Blackwood, Dowrich, Holder, Roach, Joseph, Gabriel.

In all probability Holder will keep the same side, unless the pitch looks so brown and inviting for spin bowlers that he brings in Rahkeem Cornwall for Joseph. If it’s one of those rarities, a grey yet dry Mancunian day which is what has been forecast, he will probably want to bowl first come what may – as he would have done in Southampton.

It all seems more complicated for England, which helps to explain the delayed announcement of the 13-man squad. Sam Curran and Ollie Robinson (rather than Jack Leach, who would offer the captain a genuine alternative rather than a second reserve seamer) have been included while Jimmy Anderson and Mark Wood are rested. For Robinson this is a hefty pat on the back, representing a shift in the pecking order and there is a theory that Old Trafford assists tall bowlers. As universally signalled, Denly gives way for Root.

Ollie Robinson could earn his first England cap at Old Trafford. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images for ECB

It makes sense for England to start the rotation process early in their run of six Tests since this will enable the majority of the options available to be in some sort of rhythm whenever they are selected for the Test team.

There is little point in bringing someone in cold for the second series against Pakistan after a month of running around with a bib on and bowling within the claustrophobic confines of a net.

Even so, neither Anderson nor Wood will be thrilled by their omissions, even though they are specifically “rested” rather than dropped. Will they be taking their place in the Mastermind chair during the Test before pouring out their frustrations to the Sky broadcasters and will they then find themselves being applauded by one and all for their continued commitment to the cause, as well as their candour?

Wood is geared to a sporadic Test career, but Anderson isn’t. Both are admirable team men. Even so a delicate situation will require careful, sensitive handling throughout both these series. Anderson will no doubt expect to have another chance to bowl at “his” end at Old Trafford before he finishes for good. In the meantime on his home ground he can advise Root what to do upon winning the toss. If the forecast is correct it won’t be that easy a decision.

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