Root’s ‘Weakness’ Isn’t England’s Biggest Issue

Root’s ‘Weakness’ Isn’t England’s Biggest Issue

Joe Root’s conversion rate. The story of the day, alongside Moeen’s exellence, but we should be wary of making too big an issue of Root’s tendency to fall before reaching three figures.

England 284-4 (Moeen 120*; Jadeja 3-73)

We like a weakness. They humanise people, make them understandable. It has, at times, been hard to find one for Joe Root. With previous greats (or proto-greats), we’ve sometimes had to look off-field. But where they may have been sullen or boring or flighty or sparky, Root’s always been smiley, chirpy, determined and friendly.

No obvious flaws there.

Instead, we’ve settled on his tendency to not convert his fifties into hundreds. As Madonna basically said, we are living in a decimal world. Eighties just ain’t gonna cut it (she didn’t say that bit, not even on a B-side).

Of players who have scored at least 10 half-centuries, Joe Root (28.94% conversion rate) is right up there, or down there, with Atherton (25.80), Gayle (28.84) and Andy Flower (30.79). Kohli (51.72), on the other hand, is behind only Bradman (69.04) and Headley (66.66).

Statistics courtesy of CricViz
Statistics courtesy of CricViz

It’s something that Root has touched on himself. When asked this summer how many centuries he should have scored, he said: “Probably double if you look at the amount of fifties. You are always striving to get better. Over the last couple of months it has been very frustrating. I am contributing quite consistently and I feel like I’m playing well, really well, but you don’t win games with seventies and eighties and starts, so you want to make sure you cash in when you get those opportunities… In an ideal world you go on and make seventies and eighties into hundreds but it doesn’t always work.”

It’s a funny sport, cricket. You can be criticised for not doing enough when you’ve done more than anyone else already. Root’s been England’s best batsman throughout this series – a sentence you can copy and paste and use for much of the next 12 years – but, despite scoring 485 runs at 53.88, he’s only got one hundred. It’s rare (although not unseen) that a top-scoring centre-forward is criticised for not scoring even more.

Moeen had no such issues going through to his three figures (Image: AFP)
Moeen had no such issues going through to his three figures (Image: AFP)

Today Root breezed to 88 before getting a little under-edge behind while sweeping Jadeja. It was missed by the umpires but overturned on review. Root stomped off, furious for failing again. Some failure!

That’s not to say that he shouldn’t be going on and scoring big hundreds, like Virat Kohli has this series. Big hundreds win games and Root will be angrier than anyone else that he hasn’t been able to – put on your best club cricket veteran voice for this one – make it count. He’ll be desperate to score more. It’s curious though that had he scored the 12 runs he needed to make it to three figures he would have been beyond reproach. We don’t, as a rule, criticise centuries even if we could have done with them being bigger.

But Root fell 12 short of a landmark (Image: AFP)
But Root fell 12 short of a landmark (Image: AFP)

And we don’t tend to overly focus on the players who aren’t converting because they don’t have a chance to convert. Getting in and getting out seems sometimes to be the biggest crime in cricket, bigger even than just not getting in at all. Joe Root’s impact on the England side has been greater over the last two years than any of his batting colleagues, with the honourable exception of Jonny Bairstow who’s also been a top performer. While his conversion rate is interesting, it should never be used as a stick to beat him with when he’s outscoring his colleagues.

Take Moeen Ali, for example. England’s man for every role enjoyed a brilliant day today, as he does on occasion. Much like England’s first innings at Rajkot he was serene in his progression, despite being dropped on 0. Moeen’s class is not up for debate – the guy can bat – but his inconsistency is a bigger issue than Root’s conversion rate. He makes a mockery of form (only once in his career has he passed 50 in three successive innings) which, on a day like today, is very handy indeed.

Southall Travel
Southall Travel

His scores this series are 117, 1, 2, 16, 5, 50, 0 and 120* today. When he loses his wicket in a Test, 33 per cent of the time he’s in single figures. Root sits at 28 per cent, Cook on 24 per cent and Bairstow on 18. They’re only instructive to a point but they demonstrate a greater degree of consistency on the parts of the latter trio. Moeen, when hot – like today – is very hot. When he’s not, he’s liable to fail.

That’s not to criticise Moeen (conversion rate 35.70%, better than Hobbs, Richards and Boycott), he’s a beautiful batsman who’s won matches for England before. His runs today took England to perhaps their best day since the very first day at Rajkot, but the inconsistency of him and many of his teammates is why so much is demanded of Joe Root. On days like today we can look elsewhere because someone else has delivered, but next time Root top-scores with a 70, an 80 or a 90, let’s be thankful that he got that many.

All Out Cricket’s coverage of the India-England Test series is in association with Southall Travel

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