OPINION | Root can be a vital cog in England's T20 machine
T20 has evolved to be a domain for two types of batsmen: the big hitter, and the deft flicker. England have got an abundance of both - think Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy, and Moeen Ali for the former, Jos Buttler, Eoin Morgan, and Tom Banton for the latter.
Yet, in this stick-cricket white ball world of hit-out-or-get-out, Joe Root offers something slightly different and he is worth sticking with in the England team, especially with the T20 International World Cup around the corner.
Of course, averages and strike rate are not the be all and end all. CricViz will tell you there are many more useful metrics to measure and predict success. Yet, the statistical comparisons between Root and his international counterparts tells a story.
In 32 T20I games, Root averages a healthy 35.72 with a strike rate of just over 126. To put that into context, Buttler, arguably the most undroppable of the English top order currently, averages 28 with a strike rate of 140. Morgan? 30 at 138. Bairstow? 26 at 137. Only the world’s number one ranked T20 batsman Dawid Malan averages more, a T20I average of 49 at a strike rate of 146.6 the result of a glorious run of form in England colours - one that’ll end soon if he replicates the form he showed for Yorkshire in the Blast.
Despite an unfancied and comparatively gentle T20 approach, Root is still, quite literally, World Class. The table below, taken from an article by Dan Weston in The Cricketer, “illustrates the balls faced per match (divided by 2, given that there are two innings in each match), as well as the average, strike rate and boundary percentage for each batting position in T20 internationals between the major nine Test-playing nations from the start of 2018 until November 6th 2019”
The data suggests that number threes are often employed to fulfil the anchor role, with a lower strike rate and boundary percentage, and none are better equipped to do that job in an England shirt than Root. His international average affirms his ability at that level - and importantly, he is multi-dimensional.
Four years ago, he scored 83 off 44 balls to help England chase down 230 against South Africa in the World Cup. That knock included four sixes and six fours which doesn’t seem like many, but that is exactly what makes him so effective. Without boundaries, he scored 35 off 33. He is able to keep the scoreboard motoring along without an over-reliance on finding the rope. He is the type of player who races to 30 before you realise he’s at the crease, flying under the radar of his partners bludgeoning maximums at the other end.
Now the obvious retort to utilising Root as the anchor, is that England simply don't need one. The foundation of their one day success in the past few years has been to get knocked back, and come even back harder. It has worked on occasion in T20Is. You only need to look at fourth match in the series against New Zealand last year, where England amassed 240, after being 16-1 after three overs. However, the same side was bowled out for 150 attempting to chase down 170 two works prior, however.
Keeping Root in the team means England can switch to a plan B if the all out attack approach isn't working.
That's not to say he can’t play the role of the hitter or the flicker. His red ball approach against spin is sweep heavy and he is able to translate that skill into the shorter format, and he is able to clear the rope when push comes to shove. He was England’s top scorer at that World Cup, after all.
And lest we forget his useful off spinners (and wrong 'uns - just ask Lancashire’s Rob Jones), perhaps even more useful with the World Cup’s relocation to the sub-continent next year. Adil Rashid is the only front line spinner currently popular with England selectors, and Morgan will likely have to rely on the unpredictable Moeen Ali as back-up next October. Stealing a few overs with Root will ease that pressure.
Put simply, he needs to be in England’s T20I side. He is vying for the number three spot against his Vikings teammate Malan, but if Malan’s remarkable form continues for the next six months, he should displace Roy or Bairstow. Leave Root to build the innings around when all invariably goes pear-shape in the first over.
As Vic Marks to eloquently put it in an article for The Guardian ahead of the ill-fated World Cup Final against in 2016 West Indies: “unlike others, his bat possesses a handbrake”, but that is not to say Root can't rev his engine. He will be crucial in the slippery conditions England may find themselves in against the likes of India, West Indies, and Australia in a year’s time on the grandest international T20 stage.