Chris Waters: Root of England’s problems not down to captain Joe

England's Joe Root.
England's Joe Root.
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JOE ROOT exited stage left at the WACA in Perth looking like a man who had been through the wringer in recent days.

The England captain seemed to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders after the Ashes returned to Australian hands.

England's Joe Root talks to Michael Vaughan at the WACA.

England's Joe Root talks to Michael Vaughan at the WACA.

As he conducted the captain’s round of post-match interviews, the droop of those shoulders spoke louder than words as the television cameras captured the strain.

In those painful moments, conducted to the backdrop of Australian celebration, fathers everywhere might have wanted to give the fresh-faced Yorkshireman a consoling pat on the back, just as mothers everywhere might have wanted to give him a sympathetic hug.

It is tough being England captain at the best of times, and none more so than when the Ashes have been lost.

Only a few short months ago, Root was basking in the afterglow of his first summer in charge, one which brought five wins in seven Tests and series wins against South Africa and the West Indies.

But the vicissitudes of sport are an occupational hazard, and, in terms of the national captaincy, practically a rite of passage.

Root is not the first England captain to lose in Australia and he will not be the last; he is merely the latest to walk down a well-trodden path.

As the inquests continue ahead of the fourth Test starting in Melbourne on Boxing Day, with England looking to avert yet another whitewash Down Under, it is time to cut the captain some slack.

It is no more Root’s fault that England have lost the Ashes than it was Denis Compton’s fault when Basil Fawlty memorably ranted at Polly over who was to blame for the disappearance of his dining room door in the episode The Builders.

Granted, Root has had a poor series so far (176 runs at 29.33), figures compounded by the preternatural performance of his captaincy rival Steve Smith (426 runs at 142.00), a man now being compared to Don Bradman.

Although such comparisons are essentially fatuous, for one can only really compare players of the same era, it is a double whammy for Root, who stands comparison with the best of his own generation.

Root has yet to justify his talent on the tour, but as a 26-year-old leading an Ashes campaign for the first time, he has been badly let down by his senior core.

Alastair Cook, Stuart Broad, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes – none of these splendid players could presently look themselves in the mirror with anything approaching quiet 
satisfaction.

Cook has scored 83 runs at 13.83; Broad has taken five wickets at 61.80; Ali has made 116 runs at 19.33 and claimed three wickets at 105.33, while Woakes has managed seven wickets at 51.57.

Only James Anderson, Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow – and, to a lesser extent, Mark Stoneman, James Vince and Craig Overton – have performed anything like.

It is not just on the field, however, where Root has been let down.

Off it, he has had to contend with the sort of difficulties that many of his experienced captaincy predecessors would have found draining.

First, and most obvious, has been the absence of one of the best all-rounders that England has produced and the attendant 
circus.

As soon as Ben Stokes was ruled out with his off-field problems, Root has been without the services of his right-hand man and had one hand tied behind his back.

Granted, Stokes might not have affected the outcome of the series, but that cannot be categorically stated as fact. Indeed, he might just as easily have tipped the scales in those moments when England were on top or at the very least competitive, and his presence and powers have been sorely missed.

With the spectre of Stokes looming over the tour, and only intensified by his sudden appearance in New Zealand, the consequent spotlight on player behaviour has been heightened.

Root has also been sapped by the incidents surrounding Bairstow’s supposed headbutt of Australia’s Cameron Bancroft at a bar in Perth and then Ben Duckett’s decision to pour a drink over Anderson in the same establishment.

Although the consensus is that it was much ado about nothing in the first instance, and a reasonably trivial incident in respect of the latter, it has brought unwanted publicity to a side under the cosh and taken the captain away from the business at hand.

Instead of concentrating solely on trying to dislodge the likes of Smith, Root has been busy defending his men against accusations of a drinking culture to the extent that he could have been forgiven for turning to the bottle himself.

And while he has been battling such off-field problems, Root has been battling himself too, striving to summon elusive runs from his personal well, striving for a strategy to stop Smith and Australia’s pace attack, striving to live up to the demands of the captaincy and the expectations of the English public, such as they were.

Perhaps, if he has been guilty of anything, it is simply of trying too hard.

Root had wanted to win the Ashes with every fibre of his being.

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