LONDON, England (Reuters) - The waiting ends for England’s new Test captain Joe Root on Thursday when he leads his side out for the start of a four-match series against South Africa at Lord’s on Thursday, nearly four months after his appointment.
For all the positivity surrounding his coronation in February, when he was hailed as the only credible candidate to succeed Alastair Cook, Root’s first squad has received a mixed reception, with doubts over whether it will deliver the “bold and brave” brand of cricket demanded by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).
Although the sport is on a high after the recent announcement of a 1.1 billion pounds ($1.4 billion), five-year TV deal, the five-day game faces a fight to retain the interest of an increasingly diverted public and would relish a champagne summer.
Instead, Root risks uncorking what some predict may be a rather a dull vintage by insisting on the recall of his Yorkshire team-mate Gary Ballance, who has been twice discarded as sub-standard, instead of Middlesex’s Dawid Malan or the promising Surrey opener Mark Stoneman.
With England threatening to field a five-man pace attack for the first time since 1993, the team lacks the fizz normally associated with a new era.
The captain can at least rely on the complete support of his new team. Senior players were counseled on who should succeed Cook and were unanimous in suggesting Root. “Yes (England coach) Trevor Bayliss spoke to me and others,” said seamer Stuart Broad on Skysports on Tuesday.
“Joe was the natural successor to Alastair. He has learnt his game at the top level and will thrive on the extra responsibility.”
Root is less experienced than any of his 79 predecessors in the job, however, and Thursday will only be the fifth time he has captained a first-class side.
He takes over a team humiliated 4-0 last winter by India and looking to use a seven-Test summer -- a three-match series against West Indies follows South Africa -- to build towards an Ashes winter.
Besides winning both this summer’s series, Root will be desperate to ensure that he continues to score the runs that have been his hallmark since bursting into the team in 2012. In five years, no batsman has scored more than his 4,594 Test runs and only India captain Virat Kohli betters him in all forms of the international game.
“What will make Joe’s life easiest of all is if he’s doing well himself,” wrote former England captain Nasser Hussain in the Daily Mail. “My first England coach Duncan Fletcher used to tell the press when I was struggling that I was one of the team’s all-rounders. I knew it was rubbish.”
Root looks set to move himself one place down the order to four, with Ballance in at three. Cook remains in the team as opener, while Middlesex seamer Toby Roland-Jones looks likely to make his debut on his home ground in the absence of the injured Chris Woakes and Jake Ball. Spinner Liam Dawson is another option in the 12.
Although South Africa are ranked two places above England at two in the world, they have been depleted by the loss of captain Faf du Plessis, who has stayed at home to be with his wife after the birth of their first child. Dean Elgar takes over as skipper.
Theunis de Bruyn, who played his only Test in New Zealand in March, is likely to replace Du Plessis in an inexperienced line up which also features Heino Kuhn on debut at the top of the order.
With Dale Steyn a long-term absentee with a shoulder injury, the tourists will hope that Vernon Philander has fully recovered from the ankle injury that caused him to sit out the warm-up fixture against England Lions with an ankle injury.
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Reporting by Neil Robinson and Mark Gleeson