Joe Root has taken a leaf out of the playbook of the man who dethroned him as the world’s No.1 Test batter, after an England crisis meeting in which his dismissals were effectively labelled as soft.
As the Australian team returned into camp on Thursday, Root resorted to a ploy he regularly uses at home – but used for the first time this tour in Melbourne – in a bid to iron out a flaw that has prevented him from lifting his embattled side out of strife.
In a sign of the hold the hosts have over the visiting captain, Root has reshaped his practice, batting with a fourth stump to prepare him for the examination he will face from Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and co. in the Boxing Day Test.
Taking throwdowns during an optional session three days out from the marquee fixture, Root worked to get his bat through on a straighter line to eliminate the risk of edging balls pitched on or just outside his off stump to catchers behind him.
Joe Root has reshaped his training after Australia has dismissed him in near identical fashion four times.Credit:Getty Images
Whereas Australia’s line-up, led by the world’s newly crowned No.1 Test batter Marnus Labuschagne, has trained itself to leave deliveries in this area, Root likes the feel of leather on willow, as they are a prolific scoring zone for him. But the extra bounce available on these shores increases the risk of him getting out.
Root said after the Adelaide Test he needed to be more astute in his shot selection, a point he reminded himself at the start of his hit in the nets. “Make good decisions,” Root encouraged himself.
Using a marker as fourth stump is, presumably, an aid to remind Root of the need to suppress his urge to hit the ball.
With their tour on the verge of ruin, England’s players and coaching staff held a robust meeting on Monday night in which coach Chris Silverwood made his charges watch 14 of the team’s 20 dismissals, querying why they hit balls that were better off leaving.
Though Root has performed admirably, he has fallen prey to Australia’s plan A, nicking off in all four of his innings.
“We learned a majority of us, there’s a lead-up to those dismissals, how bowlers set you up,” England’s No.3 Dawid Malan, the only other England batter to have a pass mark from the first two Tests, said.
“A lot of our dismissals were soft ones, in the sense we could have left them. That doesn’t mean we go out to leave balls.
“We still have to score, cricket’s about scoring runs, it’s not about leaving balls, it’s about making the right choices under pressure and a lot of the times we didn’t make the right choice, myself included, under pressure.”
Averaging just under 44 this series, Root has performed admirably under considerable pressure but not at the level that has seen him score 700 more runs than any other player this year.
It represents a tick for Australia’s planning and execution, though another plan will be required if Root is prepared to give up a major scoring source to bat for longer periods.
“We’ve spent a lot of our time working out how to get on top of Joe, not only because he’s such a world-class player, but he’s also the captain of the opposition,” Australia coach Justin Langer said.
“It’s always been a philosophy in the Australian cricket team to put as much pressure on the opposition captain as possible. Joe Root is that tough, though.
“We’ve seen he hasn’t necessarily got a big hundred yet, but he’s been an excellent player this series already. We’ll continue to do our homework on him and make sure, I hope, we can keep having good effect with him.”
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