In a part of the world where ‘significant shift’ normally refers to New Zealand’s unpredictable tectonics, Joe Root uses the phrase to describe the progress he has made on his technique. For England’s Test team, the results could be seismic.
Much of the talk of a new era under coach Chris Silverwood has centred on a more grown-up approach from the top three. But if Root, down at No 4 again for next week’s first Test at Mount Maunganui, can rediscover the priceless knack of ticking off Test hundreds, the batting line-up may well take care of itself.
England’s captain cut a distracted figure during the Ashes, when four half-centuries were offset by three ducks, and his series average of 32 was the width of the Tasman Sea behind Steve Smith’s 110 for Australia. For the first time in his career, he failed to make a Test hundred in an English summer.
But he insists his absence from England’s 3-2 Twenty20 win here has been put to good use. He spent time at home working with Josh Varley, the coach of his old club side Sheffield Collegiate, and sent video clips from his sessions to England batting coach Graham Thorpe.
‘I’ve done quite a lot of work on my batting over the last month and feel there’s been quite a significant shift in certain areas,’ he said.
‘I think when you’re not concerned about areas of your game, that unlocks a lot of things as well. You have the clarity and clear mind to just go and play. So hopefully that’ll play a big part starting from this series, and I can go and get some big runs.’
It is understood Root has been concentrating on his trigger movements — the small adjustments a batsman makes to feel comfortable at the point of delivery. Against Australia, he looked more vulnerable around off stump than he had for years.
If his time away from the international treadmill pays off, Root ought to be able to improve on his record since taking over the captaincy in 2017. In 33 Tests in charge, he averages below 41, which is 12 fewer than he did under Alastair Cook.
His world ranking of seventh — behind New Zealand’s Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls and only one place ahead of Tom Latham — is an insult to his talent.
Certainly, his unbeaten 41 off 42 balls during the two-day practice game here this week exuded much of his old fluency.
England were due to begin their final warm-up match last night, a three-day game against New Zealand A at Cobham Oval, and Root has urged his side to get better at winning away.
Last winter they followed a triumphant 3-0 whitewash in Sri Lanka with a 2-1 defeat in the West Indies. Mount Maunganui is the first of eight successive away Tests — two in New Zealand, four in South Africa and two in Sri Lanka. And despite Root’s apparent fixation with the 2021-22 Ashes, regaining the urn will only be feasible if they spend the next two years improving abroad. ‘We need to be prepared to play some attritional cricket at times,’ he said. ‘One thing New Zealand are very good at is they’re prepared to bat long, but also when they get their opportunities with the ball they take wickets.
‘When a new batter comes in they’ll jump on it. I think it’s an area we can get better at: maybe be a little more patient in terms of trying plans for longer and being more relentless.
‘Silvers and I are very much on the same page about how we take this team forward. We’ve made it clear to the group how we see that happening over the next couple of years, and that’s exciting.’