Joe Root may be “passionate” about remaining as England’s Test captain but should he stay in the post after the West Indies inflicted the latest damaging defeat of his tenure?
In January, the 31-year-old star batsman insisted he wanted to begin the process of helping rebuild England’s red-ball fortunes by continuing to lead the team in the Caribbean following their humiliating 4-0 Ashes series loss in Australia.
But a thumping 10-wicket defeat in the third and final Test by the West Indies in Grenada on Sunday condemned England to a 1-0 series loss after two draws.
Root has now overseen just one win in 17 Tests and has failed to lead England to a series victory in his past five attempts.
Nevertheless, he insisted on Sunday: “I am very passionate about taking this team forward. I feel like the group is very much behind me. I know this is a results-based business but it does not feel like we are far away from turning results.”
And after five years and a record 64 games in charge, a decision on Root’s future as skipper might well have been made for him by now.
But following the Ashes debacle, the ECB sacked both their managing director Ashley Giles and coach Chris Silverwood, with fellow former Test players Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood taking over on an interim basis.
Until the leadership vacuum at the top of the ECB is filled, and given England’s next Test is not until June, when they face New Zealand at Lord’s, Root will stay on barring his own resignation.
Former England captain Mike Atherton, however, was adamant his position as skipper was “untenable”.
“As was obvious to anyone who was present in Australia, and should have been obvious to anyone who wasn’t, Root has reached the end of the road as captain,” Atherton wrote in The Times.
Root, a batsman guaranteed his place in the XI, was the obvious choice to take over when Alastair Cook resigned as captain in 2017.
Unlike many an England skipper, he has maintained his form, with Root topping the tourists’ batting averages in the West Indies after a 2021 where he scored 1,708 Test runs, the third-highest tally in any calendar year.
But longstanding doubts over whether he has the forceful personality and tactical skills needed for captaincy have only intensified in recent months.
Former skipper Nasser Hussain accused “world-class batsman” Root of lacking an “instinctive feel for the game as captain” and being party to a “cop-out” following England’s controversial decision to leave James Anderson and Stuart Broad – their two all-time most successful Test bowlers – out of the squad for the Caribbean.
“They want to be a likeable team but you need more than that to win Tests,” Hussain wrote in the Daily Mail. “Sometimes you need those tough characters even if they are difficult to captain and coach.”
But, if not Root, who should captain England?
Ben Stokes was impressive when parachuted in as white-ball skipper at home to Pakistan last year following a Covid-19 outbreak.
Yet, soon afterwards he took an extended leave of absence from the game to “prioritise his mental health” and England will be wary of adding to the returned all-rounder’s workload.
Broad, if only in the short term, is another option, even if it is 40 years since England last appointed a paceman, the late Bob Willis, as captain amid fears quicks lack objectivity about when to bowl themselves.
But fast bowler Pat Cummins’ success in leading Australia to a series win in Pakistan after a home Ashes triumph may have altered English perceptions.
Yet, whoever is captain will have a tough task if England keep suffering the kind of collapse that dismissed them for 120 in Grenada to leave the West Indies requiring a mere 28 to win.
“I don’t see this Test match side suddenly becoming a team that consistently wins series after series and that’s even in English conditions,” former England captain Michael Vaughan told BT Sport.
But he, too, was withering in his assessment of Root’s captaincy after a match where his fellow Yorkshire batsman was “a long way short” tactically.
© Agence France-Presse