What would England even gain by removing Joe Root as captain?


The moment Joe Root gave his ‘length’ statement after the Adelaide Test, one knew those words would come back to bite him. Experts, including the great Ricky Ponting, called out his remarks and questioned his control over his own team.

In retrospection, Root did perhaps give a naive statement. In that, he basically de-linked himself from the decision-making for his bowlers on the field and reflected a sense of detachment and indifference in how he and his bowlers see the game on the field and how they think they can beat Australia.

But to cut Root some slack at that moment, one needs to also query what exactly makes bowlers of great experience and caliber in Anderson and Broad bowl shorter than what is ripe in Australia? Despite so obviously having made an up attack to exploit the green tinge and seam and swing movement in a D/N Test, what held England back?

They did bowl shorter than the ideal length but one needs to understand that it’s not that they are deliberately doing something that would hold their own horses. The reason why England bowled shorter than Australia in Adelaide and do in general Down Under is that, unlike the home team’s pacers, they don’t get the same amount of seam movement off the full-length area. At least not consistently enough.

England’s swing bowlers are the product of their environment. They have grown up bowling with the red Dukes ball in moist English summer days on softer surfaces offering them ready-made seam movement off the full-length area. It works wonders for them in home conditions, they run through sides in the County Championship and Test cricket in England.

But in Australia, on some benign, hard surfaces with the red Kookaburra ball – that does significantly less when new than Dukes and also gets older and softer a lot early – to extract seam movement, you need pace and a body accustomed to bending the back all day (Why Robinson has struggled with his fitness in this series). One can’t just loop the ball on full-lengths to get the seam movement in Australia, he needs to hit the surface hard.

Once this length doesn’t work for English seamers and is taken for drives by Australian batters, their immediate and understandably safe response is to pull their lengths back and try and restore a sense of calm and pause to the scorecard.

These are things that commentators need to focus on and tell the audiences for the proper education of the game rather than going after captains and teams by countlessly stating the obvious. It’s not like Joe Root doesn’t know why his team is bowling shorter than the ideal. It’s not that Anderson is not aware that by bowling full, he might end up nicking Steve Smith or Marnus Labuschagne.

Joe Root

Calls to remove Joe Root have been rife since the start of the Ashes.

Sacking Joe Root won’t change England’s results in Australia

Thus, if one looks past that naive lengths remark, it’s also extremely unfair to point too many fingers at a captain who is basically having to try and win a Test series in Australia with an attack systematically incapable of taking 20 wickets in Australia and a batting unit set up for doom in challenging circumstances by their technical failings.

Despite the chatter around tactics, in cricket, things ultimately boil down to skill and required resources on a team’s part. In England’s case, it is a structural and systematic issue and would take specific and honest changes to the English domestic scene. None of what they play domestically prepares England players and their team to succeed in Australia.

England have lost 22 of their 28 Tests played in Australia since the turn of the century. Their bowlers struggle in the country, averaging 42.40 per wicket in this period, and their batters – found technically wanted – who are themselves not accustomed to facing express pace with high bounce on harder surfaces – have also found life extremely challenging, reflected in their measly average of 28.33 over six away Ashes series.

Despite this, as is often the case in cricket, there is excessive focus and chat around leadership – that, England should remove Joe Root from captaincy is a much-agreed topic over social media and among ‘experts’ – but in all this, we need to honestly ask ourselves what would England even gain by removing Joe Root from captaincy?

Would it suddenly make them a winning side in Australia with a ‘tactically stronger’ captain? The record since the turn of the century suggests England are destined to get hammered in Australia irrespective of who leads them. The 4-22 split over 28 Tests is testament to it, unless one is implying that England have never had tactically strong captains, it’s obvious that the problem lies elsewhere and it is not going to resolve by replacing the name of the skipper.

We need to focus on more pertinent things than Joe Root’s tactics and captaincy. England can reincarnate Mike Brearly or whoever they find as a tactical genius, they will still lose and lose just as badly as they do right now in Australia. It’s cricketing logic.

A cricket writer by heart and profession. Currently at work for CricXtasy. Previously with Circle of Cricket. You can find him on Twitter @crickashish217