Updated: March 23, 2016 10:54:06 am
IT’S A warm afternoon at the Feroz Shah Kotla. After a 30-minute football session, the England players make their way to the nets. Batting consultant Paul Collingwood walks in with a whiteboard that has the batting order. Joe Root is first to pad up. He faces more than a dozen deliveries from team-mates Liam Plunkett, Chris Jordan and a net bowler — all of which are well-negotiated by the 25-year-old. (STATS || POINTS TABLE || FIXTURES)
Watching Joe Root from such close proximity is a fascinating exercise. The first thing that immediately strikes you is the amount of time he seems to have to play his shots. He stands still at the crease, and because he does not have an extravagant trigger movement, he just seems to have that extra split-second to select his shots. After a 20-minute stint, in which Root showcased his prowess on back and the front foot, he moves out. He then proceeds to take throwdowns from his team-mate at the adjoining nets, and then has a word with his bowling coach Ottis Gibson.
The Yorkshireman would later return to the nets, a little while later, this time to have a bit of fun. The bowlers are the same. But this time though, he is more intent at playing aggressively, compared to his first stint. The bowlers now started bowling a more fuller length to him, and Root obliged playing straight. On one instance when one of the net bowlers erred in length, he would step out to give a mighty whack. If Root’s stint at the nets on Tuesday is anything to go by, then Afghanistan will surely find it tough to dismantle him when the two teams meet in their upcoming league encounter at the Feroz Shah Kotla.
A lot has changed for England, since their debacle in the 2015 World Cup in Australia-New Zealand. For starters, they have altered their backroom staff, bringing in Trevor Bayliss as the head coach and Paul Farbrace as his deputy. The duo are well complemented by their 2010 WorldT20 winning captain Paul Collingwood and their bowling coach Ottis Gibson. It was therefore not a surprise, when this change in England’s backroom staff brought about a change in the team’s approach to the game. The induction of Alex Hales and Jason Roy at the top of the order has brought them rich dividends. Both play aggressively and thrive in this format. They are then equally augmented by the calming influence of their captain Eoin Morgan.
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Despite all the changes this England limited overs squad has gone through in recent times, there has always been one constant: Joe Root. Fresh from his jaw-dropping innings at the Wankhede last week, which enabled his side chase down a mammoth 229 against the Proteas, Root is probably in the midst of his most prolific run of form. “It was a monumental innings. It was probably the best I’ve ever seen while chasing in this format,” captain Morgan had said after Root’s epic.
The hallmark of that knock was the manner in which he paced his innings. Much like the manner in which he showcased his class at the nets on Tuesday afternoon, his knock looked unhurried and not once did he ever look like he was scoring quickly. Yet, his dazzling strokeplay covered every inch of the ground, and never did he look ungainly even while bringing out those trademark T20 strokes.
It therefore does not come as a surprise when Morgan said that his team’s strength lies in their batting, and concedes that his bowling in this tournament so far has been below par.
Against South Africa at the Wankhede, the England bowlers were guilty of bowling too wide off the wicket. The English seam trio – Chris Jordan, David Willey and Reece Topley – have collectively gone for over 10 runs/over in the two games so far. Fortunately for Morgan though, the bone-dry Kotla wicket will be much slower than the one in Wankhede, and hence it will assist spin. “Moving from Mumbai to Delhi will help improve the margin for error given the former is a bowler’s graveyard – if you miss your yorker by a half a foot it disappears into the crowd,” he states. The conditions on offer makes Afghanistan a very dangerous side, their spinners Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan have shown the potential to dismantle quality players. The unconventional style of Mohd Shahzad, at the top of the order is also something that Morgan will need to address.
Judging by the manner in which Afghanistan has played in the tournament so far — giving top sides like Sri Lanka and South Africa a scare — Morgan was candid when he said that he was not taking them lightly. “Our priority is on winning. Tomorrow is a big game and we will be stupid to take a side like Afghanistan for granted. First and foremost we need to get into that game with the right mindset,” he adds.
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