Forget Ricky Ponting’s criticism of Joe Root. I can tell he is the right man to captain England from the way he has handled his senior bowlers during the Ashes — and the way they have responded to him.
If Root was like “a little boy” or “a bit soft”, as Ponting has said, he would not have been able to command the respect of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad as quickly as he has. Ponting will be remembered as one of the game’s greatest batsmen but those comments do not reflect well on him.
Anderson and Broad have been two of the world’s best fast bowlers for a number of years and are two pretty forceful characters, so I am impressed by how Root has handled them.
When he became captain, I wondered if his relationship with Anderson and Broad might become an issue. I wondered how they would react when he took them off if they thought they deserved a longer spell, or if he set a field they didn’t agree with.
None of that has happened. Root has often used his senior men in short bursts and if they have not delivered what he wanted, he has taken them off. When that has happened neither Anderson nor Broad has been visibly annoyed and that is a big statement for how much they respect Root.
This was always going to be a very hard tour for Root. He had never led the team away from home, Australia have a better side in these conditions — certainly a better bowling attack — and some of his key players, such as Broad and Alastair Cook, have struggled for form.
What has happened off the field, like the Jonny Bairstow/Cameron Bancroft ‘headbutt’ incident and Ben Duckett pouring a drink over Anderson, means there has been more of a spotlight on the way the team are led. Root, coach Trevor Bayliss, director of cricket Andrew Strauss and ECB chief executive Tom Harrison have all faced questions about the culture within the team, especially because they have so far failed to win a Test.
But Root is absolutely the right man for the role. Tactically, he is more adventurous than Cook and while he is not necessarily a natural leader in the mould of Strauss or one-day captain Eoin Morgan, there is no one better to be in charge of England’s Test team. He will have gained so much from this experience. It is only a shame that he has not been able to match Steve Smith with the bat.
It’s not as though Root has had a complete nightmare. He has scored three decent half-centuries but Smith has passed 100 three times, has a highest score of 239 and a series average of 151. It was a similar story in India last winter, although Root was not captain then. Whenever Root made a good fifty, Virat Kohli made a big hundred.
I said before the series started that the run-scoring battle between Smith and Root would be decisive and Joe has lost that battle. The best batsmen are able to assess immediately what is the right tempo for a certain pitch and match situation, and they select their shots accordingly. Smith has been superb in that respect but has Root done it well enough?
Look how disciplined Smith was in the First Test, when his century won the game for Australia, and when saving the match at Melbourne last week.
The Australians have bowled very well at Root but, at times, he has given them a few too many chances to get him out. But Root is a fast learner and I am sure he will solve this problem.
I’m backing Crane to give England a lift
It is pretty rare for English players to be chosen for Australian state cricket so if Mason Crane managed to get into the New South Wales team last winter, he must have something about him.
Crane was playing grade cricket in Sydney at the time and his stint in the Sheffield Shield means he should be pretty familiar with the SCG when he makes his Test debut there tonight.
I was desperate to play state cricket but teams rarely give a chance to an overseas player ahead of one of their own. That is why my ears pricked up when I heard Crane had managed it.
He was chosen for the Ashes as a ‘luxury’ player, which looked a smart selection when Ben Stokes was still part of the side. With Stokes in the team, England could have picked Crane safe in the knowledge that they still had a four-man seam attack. Without Stokes, there is a bit more risk involved.
Would Moeen Ali have kept his place for the final Test if Chris Woakes had been fit?
Before I knew about Woakes’s injury, I thought Moeen needed a break from Test cricket, perhaps to score some runs and take wickets with Worcestershire before returning to the side.
He has had a very difficult tour but it frustrates me when I hear him labelled a part-time spinner. That might have been true when he broke into the team in 2014 but since then he has 131 Test wickets.
He will want to bring down his bowling average of 40 but don’t forget he reached 2,000 runs and 100 wickets quicker than any England player apart from Tony Greig.
So while nothing has gone right for Moeen in Australia, his record suggests he will be a force again.