He is back where it all started eight years ago—India. Joe Root, one of world’s premier Test batsman, will walk into Chepauk Stadium in Chennai on Friday morning, in what will be his 100th Test—a milestone, not many cricketers in the current times are able to reach given the amount of cricket that is being played around. Identified as a special talent at a very young age, Root was made England Test skipper at age 26. By then, he had already played 53 matches in the longest format and breached the high-end marker of batting greatness by averaging over 50.
While all eyes will be on one of the four modern day great batsmen when Root walks into the ground for the first Test between India and England, the clash of the two teams will be equally gripping. England may have been humbled on their last tour to India in 2016 that the home team won 4-0, but Root’s team is more than just about him. It has special talents in the form of all-rounder Ben Stokes, speedster Jofra Archer, veteran James Anderson, and enough depth and talent to cover all bases in India despite some young inexperienced players in the side. England, like India, are coming into the series on the back of a good win against hosts Sri Lanka, and the team’s confidence is high.
Speaking to the media ahead of the first Test match, Root sounded calm, unworried and confident that his team has what it takes to challenge and score over Virat Kohli’s new India. Both sides are riding high on confidence, having won their respective series preceding this one, and bench strength is not a worry for either side.
England did suffer a setback with top order batsman Zak Crawley slipping in the dressing room and injuring his wrist, thus ruling him out of the first two Tests. According to Root, if England sticks to its plan, then it can prevail over the India, which is always a tough side to take on at home. Excerpts:-
With Zak Crawley being ruled out due to injury a day before the series is set to start, does it mean you will bat at number three?
It’s really frustrating for Zak in particular. He was walking out of the change room and slipped over… a real freak incident. He landed on his wrist. It’s hard for him to take especially trying to be best prepared for this series. There is a number of different things to play around with. We have some brilliant options to choose from, we will look at balance of side as well; make sure we discuss things over the course of the day and take the team into the game that we are really happy about.
Will Ben Stokes will be promoted to number 3?
There’s a number of combinations we can go with. That’s the real exciting part—we now have a number of players who can go at different positions in different roles.
How are Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes looking?
I had the pleasure—or rather ‘displeasure’—of facing Jofra in nets yesterday. He bowled with great, extreme pace. He’s on top of his game, it is really exciting to see him. It’s always great to have Ben back in the group. You know he will come back and give absolutely everything to the team. To have that much amount of talent in and around the squad... very excited for them both. Looking forward to get going.
Your thoughts on the Chepauk wicket.
[I] had brief look at the pitch. Not the prettiest wicket we have ever seen but that doesn’t tell you huge amount. Of anything. History will suggest it is going to be a good wicket for the majority of the game. Spin will come into it. There hasn’t been huge amount of cricket here [in the] last four-five years. [It is] important we go into the game with an open mind, making sure we adapt to see when that first ball comes down on Friday.
On playing 100 Test matches… What has been your most cherished, proudest moment so far?
I guess the proudest moment was walking out for the first time in my England shirt. I looked back [to see] Kevin Pietersen at the other end—someone whom I watched as a kid, a teenager, and I just couldn’t stop smiling. I was living my childhood dream. Whenever I go through a lean spell, I try and look back at that moment and think of what that feeling was like. Just try and embrace that. I am still living that dream.
How do you prepare the night before or morning of a Test match?
I just try and relax as much as I can. Naturally, you will always think about the combination; there might be selection questions going into the match if you are not clear. Having all that done and just being able to switch off, give yourself a chance to be away from the game. Sometimes, I play the guitar or watch a series on the iPad. Sometimes, I watch cricket games going on all around the world, I am a big cricket fan. Anything to keep me relaxed and calm.
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Do you look at India in Australia, with so many injuries, if it opened an opportunity for someone not considered?
A lot of sides will look at that series and take huge amount of confidence from it. Huge credit to India—to go there and win a series. It’s a very difficult place to win in. Teams will see that and see it’s possible to win away from home. [It] puts pressure on sides playing at home. There is bit of pressure around that. Embrace that challenge. As a side and individual players, when you are given an opportunity, you should look to maximise it. We have had competitions for places, there is a bit more depth in our squad, not heavily reliant on individuals which might have been the case a few years ago. It’s really exciting time for the team.
Could Moeen Ali be an X factor in the series given his record against India?
All three spinners are fit and available for selection. As a whole bowling group we have to work together, not single out any bowler. Collectively, it’s going to be important that we all play our part. We look at things in partnerships, how can we take 20 wickets in these conditions as a group? That’s going to be the main mentality throughout the series. Do your job as best as you can. Keep working together as a unit.
Cheteshwar Pujara plays long innings, like you, but is not bound by scoring rate. How frustrating can he be for the opposition?
He is a fantastic player. I had the pleasure of playing alongside him only for a couple of games in Yorkshire. To learn from him, his batting is really interesting. On being on the wrong end of him making huge scores, you learn from those kinds of innings, you see his importance [and] value to the Indian team. He is going to be a huge wicket for us, no doubt about that. For us, at times, we have to try and see our patience, be mentally as strong as he is being for that long in the field. We know he is a fantastic player and has a fantastic record at home, it is going to be a great challenge to come up against him.
How confident is England coming into this series?
Coming off the back of those two games (against Sri Lanka), we have gained huge confidence. We are very realistic where we are as a team, how we play our cricket. This is going to be a real challenge for us but we relish that challenge, and we just have got to concentrate on taking forward steps as a team. Concentrate on things we think will be key to winning out here and try to execute them as best as possible. If you want to play the best teams in the world, you want to play and do well in their own conditions.
Your approach to taking on off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin?
[I will] just try and play him! I won’t try to look to dominate or defend; just try to play the ball as delivered. If I do that I feel I will be able to score some big runs. He’s a fine bowler, has great record in India, full of confidence in that series. I’ve played against him before. It will be a great little battle within the game. It’s a contest you can’t get the better of and ultimately if you are going to score big runs in any series, just having ball-by-ball mentality is certainly the best.
What are your views on the ‘Big 4’ in present day Test cricket—Steve Smith, Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and yourself?
I look at those three guys and try and learn as much as I can. They are three of leading players in the world. How they construct their innings, manage different passages of play, how they manage their own game as well and keep evolving… We all play the game differently, different styles. That’s the beauty of the game.
Individual battles, for me, it’s not something important. What I would look at is to win the series. It will take whole squad coming in together and producing something special over different periods of time, managing pressure over long periods of time. [It’s about if we can] collectively pull together, build those partnerships with the bat and ball, and win the series.
How has he worked to become one of the best exponents of the sweep shot?
As a young lad, I was always very small. It took me a very long time to grow up and develop physically. So I had to find a way to get the ball off the square against the spinners in particular. When there wasn’t much pace to work with. And the sweep shot was probably one of the shots I could actually generate lot of power with. For me it was a scoring option. Since then, I have tried to develop my game a bit more broadly. I worked with some brilliant players, coaches, watched lots of guys around the world, how they go about things… Understanding when playing line and length depending on the surface the bounce is going to be an issue as much as lateral movement. I tried to factor all that in, counter that, take minimal risk while playing the shot. My club ground actually spun quite a lot consistently. We had a very good overseas pro—I got practice games all the time—he was good; quite a good education how to go about that side of batting.
Your thoughts on the possibility of being the highest run-scorer ever in Tests, overtaking Sachin Tendulkar?
No, I haven’t [thought of that]. For me, it’s about looking after the immediate future. [It is] nice to come off a Test series but it doesn’t guarantee anything. [It has] taken a long time to play 100 matches. Sachin has been the best player to play game. I had the privilege to play against him a couple of times. I’ll have to play lot more Test cricket to meet that number.
How are you preparing to counter three spinners? Will you stick to your strength and use the sweep shot or alternate strategy?
For me, with the pitches in SL meant the sweep was the lowest risk shots. It might be in India, there will be more bounce, not much turn, then the sweep becomes a more dangerous shot here. The challenge will be in assessing what’s in front of us, what attack they pick and find way to score runs. I have to find different ways of scoring runs. That’s the beauty of Test cricket.