What will make Joe Root a great Test captain? Ashes glory, says Silverwood

A bit like telling someone you love them and being met with “I love spending time with you too” in response, Chris Silverwood was asked on Sunday whether Joe Root is a great England captain and replied: “I think he’s a good Test captain, yes.”

It was an amusing answer as England’s head coach reflected on his side’s handsome victory by an innings against India at Headingley, one that ended a run of seven Tests without a win and puts this enticing series level before the fourth Test at the Oval, which begins on Thursday.

The question was prompted by Root surpassing Michael Vaughan’s record number of wins as England captain with his 27th. Vaughan has since said greatness here is defined by Ashes victories – his one-time apprentice is yet to oversee one – and, in what feels like a very Yorkshire conversation, Silverwood appears to agree.

“It’s great that Joe has got that record,” said Silverwood. “No one can take that away from him now. He’s done it. And obviously, we’re going to go to Australia [this winter] and if we win there we can have this conversation again. But I think there’s potential there for him to be one of the great England captains, yes.”

Root would probably concur and if nothing else this discussion shows how quickly the narrative can shift. After all, his captaincy was subject to much criticism at Lord’s a week earlier following a final day in which England needlessly tried to vengefully rough up India’s tail and saw it blow up in their faces in a harrowing 151-run defeat.

He may be 55 Tests into his tenure – only Alastair Cook went further with 59 – but being beamed up to planet England as a 21-year-old in 2012, and only fleetingly seen at Yorkshire since, meant Root has learned on the job. Last week, in between Tests, this meant reflecting on those ill-judged tactics but also the needless verbals into which England’s players had been drawn.

Chris Silverwood and Joe Root during a net session at Lord’s.
Chris Silverwood and Joe Root during a net session at Lord’s. Photograph: Paul Childs/Action Images/Reuters

Silverwood said. “He does learn as he goes along and that’s a great characteristic for a captain to have: to reflect back honestly and make a difference. And he’s certainly made a difference this game.

“There was a controlled aggression: the way they hit the lengths hard, the way they put the India tail under pressure and forced them to make decisions all the time. I think you can be aggressive in a very controlled way and I think they got that right.”

What is not up for debate is Root’s current form and when the ICC batting rankings next update there is every chance his third successive century – and sixth this year – will see the 30-year old knock New Zealand’s Kane Williamson off the top. Root has top-scored in all five England innings this series, ending suggestions that captaincy affects his output.

Along with improved catching, the win in Leeds also featured green shoots of recovery for the rest of England’s batting lineup. A total of 432 all out in response to India’s 78 all out was a slight disappointment after reaching 298 for two, but with each of the top four making it past 50 for the first time since 2013, Root finally had some support.

Aside from the captain’s sparkling 121, Rory Burns making a fluent 61 and Jimmy Anderson setting up the match with three wickets on the first morning, this handbrake turn was also built on four players who were sat on the outside at the start of the year.

Ollie Robinson, man of the match with seven victims, was admittedly in the set-up albeit yet to make his debut. But Haseeb Hameed, who made an encouraging 68, Dawid Malan, 70 on his return at No 3, and Craig Overton, six wickets and 32 runs, sat well down the pecking order until injuries and collapses in form forced a reshuffle.

The absence of Ben Stokes for mental health reasons also left a big hole and not just in terms of match-winning performances or the balance he brings to the side. Test cricket is a non-contact sport but the all-rounder’s physicality on the field felt missed by England, that was until two giant seamers in Robinson and Overton combined.

Silverwood said: “They’re both big lads, physically, and they’ve both got great character. And when they’re out there you can see that coming out for them, they both get into the battle which is great for the players, there’s plenty of energy there. They are relentless with what they do with their skills and I think that sort of physicality and character that comes with them does give you presence on the field.”

It may not be the team that England envisaged when they began their monstrous 2021 and there is plenty of work still to do against a quality India side that will be hurting. But the series is all square and Root finally has some reward for his efforts this summer.

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