CricViz analyst Ben Jones profiles Joe Root.
England’s new Test captain is in the elite class of current Test batsman, with an excellent record that puts him alongside his opposite number Steve Smith as a member of the “Big Four” with Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson. Since his Test debut in 2012, nobody has scored more Test runs than Root’s 5,320, and his elegant yet solid technique has seen him prosper against all bowling-types and in all countries other than Australia, where he averaged a disappointing 27.42 on the last tour. That series led to him being briefly dropped before he made an emphatic return in 2014 and has not looked back, establishing himself as one of the world’s leading batsmen – averaging above 50 against pace and spin.
A very modern player, Root scores heavily without compromising aggressive intent. He defends or leaves just 43% of the balls he faces (global average 48%), attacking 26% (global average 24%) and rotating 31% (global average 28%). This flexibility in scoring stems from an excellent, classical technique which gives him options on both front and back foot, averaging 51.67 going forward and 60.83 going back. As a result he scores at over 3 runs per over against both spinners and seamers.
His game-plan to the quicks is defined by his development in youth cricket as an opener. He aims to limit the impact of lateral movement by playing largely of the back-foot and playing as late as possible. Since Root’s debut only Gary Ballance has a later contact point against pace than Root’s 1.52m from the stumps (global average 1.76m). While this is essentially a defensive move to counter swing and seam movement, it has equipped Root with a wonderful array of back-foot strokes when playing pace; he averages 172.00 cutting the ball, and 57.75 pulling. This style of play has led to Root’s most productive scoring zone being the backward point/third man region where he has scored 848 runs and only been dismissed once – the highest average in the region of any player since 2006. That is not to say he is not strong off the front foot – an average of 48.62 when driving is testament to that and is illustrated by the Boundary Heatmap below.
When facing spin bowling, Root is extremely busy, playing no shot or defending only 37% of balls (global average 45%). Since his debut, only James Taylor has faced 200+ deliveries of spin with a lower dot-ball percentage than Root’s 66.1%. Root is very selective as to when he leaves his crease against spin – only coming down the pitch to 3% of deliveries (global average 5%), however an average of 59.00 when doing so shows him to be more than capable using that approach. Root is able to disrupt spinner’s length by employing conventional, slog and reverse sweeps – shots with which he averages 46.95. Root is excellent at picking up length and this allows him to play back against spin 30% of the time (global average 23%). That he averages above 60 on the front and back foot is evidence of the quality of his footwork selection. His average against spin is almost identical regardless of whether the ball is turning into him or away from him, showing that his technique can’t be dismantled simply by moving the ball one way or the other.
FULL AND FAST
Root doesn’t appear to have an obvious weaknesses to exploit. For Australia’s cabal of pacemen, one area which they could try and target is Root’s slight vulnerability to full bowling. Whilst he destroys anything short, averaging 89.38, and has a decent record against the difficult “good” length, averaging 39.09, his average drops to 30.08 against full deliveries from the seamers. It’s hardly a fatal flaw, and is arguably the only clear cost of his quick-scoring, but Australia know they need to pounce on any weakness and the man most likely to exploit it is Mitchell Starc. Of the Australian seamers we’re likely to see in the series, Starc has the best average with full pitched deliveries, taking 72 wickets at 23.18.
Root has an excellent average of 64.91 against off spin but Australia can take encouragement from Nathan Lyon’s record against Root – boasting an average of 36.25 with four dismissals. Key to Lyon’s success against Root has been speed: Root’s average against off spin drops to a merely solid 47.20 against balls faster than 87 kph – a speed-range Lyon bowls 42% of the time (global average 32%) and all of Lyon’s wickets of Root have been 87 kph or faster. Lyon’s average speed in 2017 is higher than in any year previously; something that is largely the product of him looking to counter batsmen sweeping in Asia, however, it could prove a useful attribute against England’s middle order lynchpin.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz. @benjones_13