BY DAN AND HERMAN
Melbourne: Tuesday. Day 1 of the Boxing Day test
Australia finally wins a toss and Steve Smith decides to bat. From early on David Warner is faced with a field that includes a deep point. Joe Root employs this field to dry up the boundaries to Warner, and frustrate him into a rash shot. This field has been employed since the first test of the series.
Melbourne: Friday. Day 4 of the Boxing Day test
After just two overs with the new ball in the third innings of the match, Stuart Broad, who had taken 4 wickets in the previous innings is replaced by Chris Woakes. On ABC Radio the commentators theorise that this has occurred in order to save Broad (and Anderson) for the old, reversing ball.
Joe Root’s approach to captaincy is fascinating. In the games with the highest stakes he has been willing to throw caution to the wind, to try things that others may not. In short, he has been ‘funky’.
Even more interesting though is that when Root innovates, when he digs into those mines of cricketing strategy that lurk beneath his English cap, he almost always pulls out something defensive. Like a magician digging his arm deep into his hat and bringing out a newspaper instead of a rabbit. Sure it’s different. But not exactly earth shattering.
Funky Defensiveness. This is the Root Doctrine.
David Warner was always going to be tough on his home pitches. The lack of deviation makes him almost impossible to remove. An idea to bore him out by saving runs every time he hit it through point was borne. All those potential fours restricted to two. Then David Warner will get himself out through frustration.
Then instead of giving his form bowler more over with the new ball, he got funky and removed him from the attack. Sure this was different – he was definitely eschewing the convention of giving your best bowler plenty of time with the new ball. But he was missing an opportunity to have give his best bowler the shine.
Each decision Root usurped tradition to hope for results down the track. Not trying to change the game, instead seeking to delay the ‘crucial moments’ that Ashes tests are practically required to be decided by.
The above circumstances are not the only times this has occurred. With Australia if not teetering then a little unbalanced at 3 for 160 in the first innings, Root decided the arrival of Shaun Marsh was the best time to bring on Moeen Ali. Like his funky brethren Michael Clarke, Root was showing confidence in his struggling spinner. Moeen begun bowling with deep fielders all over the shop. The result was that Australia scored freely without risk for the first time in the test match.
And throughout the series we’ve seen fielders placed in odd position for Steve Smith. Frankly that’s about frustration as much as anything – getting Smith out right now requires minor miracles. But so often the tourists have focused on catching mid-ons and alike rather than more tried and true methods of dismissal.
All these strategies and tactics have been unusual, and I have no doubt they are based on the best data that English cricket can provide Root. In this series the results have yet to go Root’s way, but small samples sizes and the difficulties of touring Australia provide enough doubt to suggest maybe the tactics aren’t the issue. Funky defensiveness may be the best way forward for England.
Still, I can’t help but think they are a little too funky and a lot too defensive.