Plenty of highs but poor Ashes record tarnishes Joe Root legacy as captain

Root stepped down as England Test captain on Friday, saying the job had taken a heavy toll on him recently

By Reuters

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Joe Root's England lost the Ashes 4-0 to Australia. (AP)
Joe Root's England lost the Ashes 4-0 to Australia. (AP)

Published: Fri 15 Apr 2022, 7:44 PM

The runs flowed and some famous wins were achieved, but damaging losses against England’s old foes will tarnish how Joe Root’s time as captain will be viewed in the years to come.

Root stepped down as England Test captain on Friday, saying the job had taken a heavy toll on him recently, despite declaring in late March he wanted to continue as skipper.

Analysing his legacy is a difficult task, given the various peaks and troughs he encountered after taking the role in 2017.

The Yorkshire-born batsman is England’s second-highest Test run-scorer of all time behind Alastair Cook and his tally of 5,295 runs as skipper is the highest by an England captain.

Root has recorded more wins as skipper than any of his compatriots (27), but also suffered more defeats (26) in the role than others.

Of those defeats, England’s woeful recent record of meek surrenders against Australia stands out.

Root enjoyed instant success as skipper after succeeding Cook in the wake of a drubbing in India. A score of 190 on his captaincy debut — the first Test against South Africa at Lord’s in the summer of 2017 — was the highest of six centuries scored by England captains in their first match in the job.

Back-to-back wins in the final two Tests gave England a 3-1 series victory to get Root off to a flier. He finished with 461 runs — 131 more than his nearest challenger on either side.

The honeymoon period did not last long as England surrendered their Ashes urn following a 4-0 drubbing down under in 2017-18, before another series defeat, this time in New Zealand, saw Root’s first year at the helm end inauspiciously.

Another upturn in fortunes took place in 2018 as Root’s England thrashed the number one Test team India 4-1 at home, before going to Sri Lanka and overseeing his first overseas tour win, becoming the first Englishman in 55 years to secure a whitewash abroad in a series of three matches or more.

“We are not a one-trick pony in our own conditions anymore and that should fill us with a huge amount of confidence going into future tours,” Root said at the time. England were then beaten in the West Indies soon after.

For all the confidence-boosting victories, one constant disappointment remained.

England had won four of their previous five Ashes series before Root’s tenure, but across three series against Australia, two abroad and one at home, England won just two Tests out of 15.

The final series of Root’s reign in 2021 and 2022, a tour he admitted would “define his time” as captain, could not have gone much worse as the Ashes were surrendered within 12 days of cricket as the urn again remained down under.

Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting said England were the worst-performing tourists he had ever seen in Australia.

“The stark fact is, under his leadership over the last 12-18 months, nothing much has gone right,” former England captain David Gower told the BBC.

“At some stage you get to the point - and I remember this from all those years ago - where you realise that whatever you say or do, it’s not going to inspire a team any more.

“A lot of people, including me, had decided it was time for a new voice.”

The final nail in the coffin was another series loss in the Caribbean last month, but not for the first time in history, the lasting and irreparable damage was done by the Australians.

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