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Where Joe Root falls behind Smith & Kohli

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Joe_Root_England_captain_cricketFor the last few years, much has been made of the ‘Fab Four’ of modern batting – the comparisons between Steve Smith, Joe Root, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson have been endless. The rivalry, for fans and cricket watchers anyway, has intensified since all four became the captains of their respective countries.

There is little doubt these four men sit atop the modern batting tree, with all of them having healthy Test averages of at least 50 – Smith leading the way with an average in excess of 63. Not only are they all great batsmen, but in their own way they are all very good leaders.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, New Zealand’s Test calendar is so sparse the world isn’t treated to the Kane Williamson show nearly as often as we should be. The Kiwi superstar has picked up where Brendon McCullum left off, in terms of leading a positive and aggressive New Zealand team with a never-say-die attitude. Not only are New Zealand very hard to beat, but captaincy hasn’t affected Williamson’s ability to churn out the runs either.

In fact, captaincy has had a positive effect on the batting of each member of the ‘Fab Four.’ Smith continues to go from strength to strength and despite his unorthodox technique he shows no signs of slowing down. He has been so dominant he is now drawing comparisons to Sir Donald Bradman!

In Kohli’s first game as captain, he almost led a successful heist in Adelaide, and ever since MS Dhoni stepped aside on that Australian tour, the fiery Indian skipper has translated his dominance in white ball cricket to the Test arena. In the last year alone Kohli scored five double centuries, displaying the ruthless streak we all knew he had.

 

It is perhaps in that one area, ruthlessness, where Root falls behind Kohli and Smith. Root’s skill with the willow is without question. He often looks at ease from the moment he strides out to the middle. His sound technique, well rounded strokeplay and aggression quickly put the opposition on the back foot, and he doesn’t hesitate to counter-attack when his team is in trouble.

 

On what was yet another nightmare Ashes tour to Australia, the English team found themselves in trouble time after time with Root often coming to the crease with his side reeling from the loss of two early wickets to Australia’s fearsome fast men.

This is when a team needs their captain to stand up and drag them out of the mire and into the light. Root hasn’t been short of determination or effort: he crossed 50 five times in the series but was unable to convert any of them into a hundred.

 

Much has been made of Root’s poor conversion rate so far in his career, but it was particularly damaging to England’s hopes while the Ashes were still alive. As captain, it is even more crucial he makes big scores when he is set, and improves on his career conversion rate of 27%. This pales in comparison to his peers Williamson, Smith and Kohli, whose conversion rates are 39%, 50% and 57% respectively.

 

England needed their captain to lead the way in what was always going to be tough tour, the same way that Kohli and Smith have been leading their sides – from the front with a mountain of runs and several big scores that put the opposition under the pump.

Of the last 14 times Root has crossed 50, he has converted only two innings into scores of 100 or more. Meanwhile, Kohli has scored nine hundreds, including six doubles in his last 14 times past 50; Smith has converted 10 of his 14 opportunities into hundreds, including a double.

This is where Joe Root falls behind Kohli and Smith; as a batsman, but also as a leader of his team. The way Root has handled himself and his team on a difficult tour has been admirable, right from the Ben Stokes incident in September through to Jonny Bairstow’s ‘greeting’ and then after each painful loss.

 

He’s shown grit and leadership during a tough time for his team on what is the hardest tour for an Englishman. His effort cannot be questioned, but his output can. Along with England’s other senior players, bar maybe James Anderson, Root has been underwhelming and unable to stand up when his team has needed him.

 

The England captain has had the opportunity throughout the series to put Australia to the sword, to cash in and make a big score and put the pressure back on the home side. Each time he has failed to convert a good start. On flat Australian pitches, the biggest crime any batsman can commit is not converting a strong start. When your leader fails to do so time after time, it becomes even more difficult for the rest of the batting line-up.

To win Test matches in Australia, a visiting side needs to rack up totals over 500 on a consistent basis. For this, they need more than one batsmen to make a big hundred. That’s when you expect your captain to step up and lead the way, the way Steve Smith did all series, and has done for a considerable amount of time now.

For England, Joe Root was unable to do that on this tour. He has the talent and he has the determination. England will be hoping their leader can find that ruthless streak soon.

 

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Akash is a cricket writer based in Perth, Western Australia. Upon completing his journalism degree ...

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