Joe Root is the icon of a new generation, but his inability to translate potential to success affords an air of disappointment, much like that which surrounds Mark Ramprakash’s legacy.
Nobody can doubt that Joe Root is a special talent; especially if you follow county cricket. It is infact precisely because he is so special that this appeal is going out. He must be safeguarded and allowed to excel.
He was named Wisden’s Cricketer of the Year in 2013, and at 23 years old, has got nearly 4000 first class runs already.
He has a versatility which has delivered him into the England side already, debuting on a tough but successful India tour. Yet, even after his maiden century and Ashes series’, he has been in the midst of a below par year.
He averages just 36 in Test cricket, but since scoring 180 in the second Ashes Test at Lord’s in July 2013, he has averaged only 25, albeit in a variety of positions.
Whereas nobody expects him to be a fully fledged world class player quite yet, there is a clear cause for concern that such a gifted player is finding life so hard.
This deflation in his stature can be attributed to poor management, and ultimately ‘Mark Ramprakash syndrome’. This entails that his most valuable asset; his versatility, is a downside to his career because he is never allowed to fulfil a clear concrete role.
Ramprakash was a very special player scoring over 100 first class centuries. But in Test cricket, he was regularly selected and deselected. When he was playing, he moved up and down the order, and was very much selected as a condition of filling in.
He was never really allowed to consolidate his place in a position, and gradually wasted away as an unfulfilled talent.
At just 23 years old, Root has batted in every position in the Test batting order from number two to number seven. Instead of backing him in his most natural position; an opening slot, he has been placed into uncomfortable positions and been encouraged to adapt and try to fulfil and un-natural role.
To an extent, this is Root’s own doing, because he outlined that he was willing to bat where the team wanted. This makes his selection somewhat dependent upon batting where the team needs him, as opposed to where he would excel.
It was the case with Ramprakash too; who by the end of his career; had batted in every position from two to seven over the course of a decade; always showing a preparedness to bat in a position for the team’s sake.
In ODI cricket, both Root and Ramps batted at three, four, five and six with regularity, showing a similar attitude, but of course over a different length of time.
Root only debuted in 2012, and in that short time, has been corrupted by perpetual change. In an almost cyclical nature. They go through phases of trying new things, and when they fail, they resort to the previous.
Ramprakash and Root have been selected and dropped, with every recall conditional upon a new role.
They are like a filler, seen as so adaptable and talented that they can go into any role. An unspecialised batsmen, they lose their opportunities to consolidate a role, because they are constant subjects of change.
Now of course, good players are good players. Ramprakash produced just two Test centuries yet 114 first centuries. It’s fairly clear even to the humblest follower of club cricket, that something was lost in translation between Ramps at county level and International level.
Root seems to be stuck in a rut off indecision. Where he bats, how he bats, and what his future holds are all very much open to debate. But there is still a lot of time in his career, despite currently averaging just 36 in international cricket.
England must decide what to do with Root, especially in light of the coaching shifts, and the personnel changes in the top order.
With the emergence of Sam Robson as a genuine option to open, Root may be wise to follow the advice of Australian opener, Chris Rogers, who is Robson’s opener at Middlesex. According to the BBC, Rogers explained that:
“I don’t particularly think Joe Root’s an opener. He plays spin well and he’s better suited to the middle order.”
Root should commit to batting in the middle order in a clearly defined role. He is in limbo, as he is now somewhat a senior player but at the same time, he is not secure with his place.
At 23 years old, he is still learning, he is versatile; but he is trying to set up for the prime of his career. He needs regularity, familiarity, consistency, but most importantly a more rhythmical and clear role so he can settle.
Root’s versatility could easily be his downfall as a fill in role, or he could embrace a position and stick with it and excel. One way or the other, such a talent should not be lost to the Ramprakash syndrome of endless potential unfulfilled.