The argument (made by England skipper Eoin Morgan to the BBC) that Joe Root is the most complete batsman England have ever produced is a rather striking one. One we might reasonably and fairly immediately file under hyperbole; post-match, post-UNREAL swashbuckling victory euphoria. Because if ever there was a moment for delusional disproportion then this was it: Root being godlike in an environment from which most would have (actually) sought escape, one way or another. Instead Ar Joseph unflinchingly but beautifully built his way forward, denying the Munch-like scream of the moment, dismantling the Proteas attack.
For this most English of English heroes to dismiss the whirlwind around him with such calm, such style and without resorting to the violent bludgeoning of the innocent ball was remarkable… and maybe remarkably attractive and rich and necessary. Whether Root’s genius catapaults him beyond England’s Finest Ever is another matter. Frankly I’m not going there; not now; not without several clarity-inducing beers inside me.
Instead let’s pop back into the broader arguments. T20 is clearly the coming force but if there is a concern around its appeal this may centre over the car-crashness, the impact-frenzyness, the potentially divisive or even repulsive quality of the Boomathon that it has become. (I know! Tad perverse to intuit the least concrete reservations of a tiddly proportion of traditionalist fans here but stay with me; a Bigger Picture will emerge. Judge me then.) Where were we?
T20. Yes we love it and need it to make us relevant into a new age. Yes we accept that there is some meaningful upskilling going on as well as possible subversions to Wise Old (Longer Format) Truths – fielding and levels of ingenuity in both batting and bowling codes being notable contributors to the positives here. And yes, critically and unanswerably, we acknowledge cricket is suddenly unthinkable without T20.
But in the ever-fuller gallop, are there implications for the sustainability of all this – or more precisely, are there dangers in being T20-centric? Is there something inevitably concerning about a dynamic charge – a revolution – that is so-o relentlessly breathless? My answer to that is I’m not sure, that I am uneasy with the consideration-vacuum implied, that I do wonder.
Again I fear the accusation of miserablism. So I repeat my allegation that I am the least miserable/most enthusiastically positive bloke I know and that I support and accept forward energy as our lifeblood. I also get that excitement means numbers and that maan, we need numbers.
There must be debate about how T20 feels and looks and evolves and is structured or levered into our domestic structures but yup – there must T20. The question (or one question) might be whether people weary of the smashes, the fireworks, the ramped-up ramp-shots? And how, if boom-fatigue did set in, could we plan or address that easing back? Where does cricket go if (let’s say) new supporters tire of seeing Gladiator X carve his way to another killing?
Backtracking into my crease, I accept this scenario simply may not arise. Maybe I’m just casting the idea out there to see if anyone understands the universe this way(?) The fact that Root and de Villiers (for example) span the ludicrously operatic skills-dimension with such majesty and ease suggests T20 will never be the brittle theatre I almost fear. Long may their talent keep us safe.
Certainly the Yorkshireman made a nonsense of my argument yesterday. He/we can’t claim he did it solo – not after the stunning barrage from Hayes and Roy – who sent Steyn (arguably the best and toughest and canniest genuinely quick bowler in the world, remember) packing. Root did still, however, come in with the proverbial ‘lot to do’. He then performed beyond the capacity of nearly everybody on the planet – hence that hyperbole from his captain.
He steered the ball as much as he smote it. He seemed – absurdly – to be in his element whilst we were either delirious or contemplating a brisk walk out until things were done. It was one of those personal triumphs that go beyond the tribalist norms; he was rapturously received, when his effort was cut tantalisingly short, by an almost entirely neutral crowd. He might almost have been at Headingley.
Morgan was effusive in part because of the natural excitement following an audacious and vital win but also because Root really is special.
Comparisons are fatuous with previous eras because now is so obviously and uniquely Peak Dynamism. Sobers or Botham or Boycott or Bradman – who all faced fearsome opposition – faced nothing like the levels of athleticism we’re seeing now. The context was substantially different and probably less challenging in terms of its range; despite uncovered pitches etc etc. We could conceive of Sobers and Botham being transported into the modern era and adapting (probably remaining gloriously god-like, in fact) but many of us would rather simply deny the validity of joining any of these crazily abstract dots.
What we could reasonably extrapolate, however, is that Joe Root is pret-ty masterful across the cricket arts. He has the technical brilliance and temperament to be a genuine Test Star. He has the running and the hands of a short-format hustler. He has, as yesterday confirmed, the timing and craft to power his way towards the unthinkable in T20. Even when the pressure is mega-epic-acute.
Joe Root is our world star. He’s precious not simply because of his tremendous gifts, but his personality – his capacity to return us to simple, joyful matters of sport. That boyishness. He’s great company, too, being plainly a ‘good lad’, ‘one of us or ours’, a charmer and a laugh. But let’s value him higher yet; in covering all bases across the playing formats, making the case for skill as well as muscle, he may be holding the whole shebang together.