Holding on to Fab Four status by skin of his teeth, a look at ebbs and flows in Joe Root's Test career
Not only have England faltered as a team under Root's captaincy of late, his form as a batsman has also been poor, with him averaging just 27.40 this year.
Remember a 21-year-old Joe Root first bursting on to the scene on England's tour of India in 2012? One cannot stress enough on how young he looked. If he looks what he does at 28, one can only imagine his baby face at 21.
Root impressed with a fighting 73 in Nagpur batting at number 6. The knock was not particularly free-flowing and came off 229 deliveries at a strike rate of 31.87. After this display of promise, Root took another eight innings to bring up his maiden Test ton at Headingley against New Zealand.
Up next was possibly the biggest challenge of his cricketing career - back to back Ashes series in which he was promoted to open the batting but later dropped to one down.
A sensational start
At 23 years of age in August 2014, Root had played 40 Test innings with 1732 runs already under his belt, at an average of over 50, with five centuries and seven half-centuries. This was at a time when his contemporaries Kane Williamson, Virat Kohli and Steve Smith all averaged 40 or below.
In his following 19 innings after the ton, Root compiled one century and two half-centuries. Then came the biggest moment of his Test career at that point. Batting at five, his unbeaten score of 200 against Sri Lanka was an assurance that he was here to stay.
Taking over captaincy
In 2017, after England's humiliating 4-0 loss against India, Root replaced Alastair Cook as England's Test captain. The team was then claimed to have "stagnated" and needed someone new to steer the ship ahead. The England Test team was then languishing at fifth place and Root expressed his honour to be named the English Test captain.
26 at the time, Root was the second youngest Test captain then. A 190 against South Africa at Lord's and another 136 against West Indies at Birmingham after taking over captaincy was an indication that Root was comfortable with the leadership role.
Falling short as captain
Somewhere around then, captaincy begin to take its toll on him. A 4-0 loss against Australia in Ashes 2017 is the moment when he felt that weight the most.
Having captained the Test team for 34 matches, after a loss in the first Test against New Zealand, Root has now suffered 14 losses. The batsman has captained England in 14 away Tests, out of which the team has won only four with three coming in Sri Lanka itself.
England have lost 6 and won 13 Test matches that Root has skippered at home.
Despite ordinary returns, what will give him a sense of calm is that the English management is on his side at the moment, with England men's cricket Managing Director Ashley Giles coming to his rescue in the media.
"We've got to work with Root to make sure his game is in the best shape and he's got time to work on it away from the pressures of captaincy. We want to help him get back to averaging 50-plus and if he's doing that we are going to win games of Test cricket.
"I'm not quite sure what anyone is expecting me to say; 'we'll see how we go'? That's not a great vote of confidence in a captain," Giles opined.
Batting returns dwindling
Not only have England faltered as a team under his captaincy of late, his form as a batsman has also been poor. The 28-year-old has averaged under 40 as Test captain as opposed to his average of 52.80 before captaincy. Since the beginning of 2018, Root has scored 1496 runs from 44 Test innings at 34.79 with 3 centuries and 10 half-centuries.
Amid calls to step down as captain, Root has dropped out of top 10 in the ICC Test batsmen rankings. After having been crowned the world's best batsman in 2015, this drop in Root's rankings has come on the back of a disappointing 2019 where he has averaged just 27.40 from 10 Tests.
"Sometimes players go through phases of their career where they are not as consistent or make the scores they would like. I'm not too worried about it and this game in particular I found two dreadful ways to get out - but I'm not far away," Root said after managing only 13 runs in the two innings of the first Test against New Zealand.
Well, even if the skipper is speaking his mind, he can afford not to worry only for a couple more matches. If his bat and the team do not begin to fire by the end of the Test series against South Africa, there might be some reason to worry.
©Cricket World 2019