Magnificent Joe Root at peak of his powers following outstanding year – Chris Waters
The question seems apt after a year in which Root scored 1,708 Test runs – the third-highest in a calendar year – as captain of a struggling England team.
As debate continues regarding his suitability to remain as captain, amid a glaring lack of viable alternatives, there is no debate about Root the batsman.
Only Pakistan’s Mohammad Yousuf (1,788) and West Indies’ Viv Richards (1,710) have scored more Test runs than Root in a calendar year, the Yorkshireman making over three times as many as any of his colleagues, opening batsman Rory Burns the next-highest with 530.
It is no surprise, then, that Root has been named Men’s Test Cricketer of the Year by the International Cricket Council, reward for his outstanding personal contribution during a year in which England won four of 15 Tests and lost series against India, New Zealand and Australia.
“I am incredibly proud to receive this award,” said Root, who is only the second Englishman to be so honoured after Sir Alastair Cook, his predecessor as captain, in 2011.
“I am very humbled to be in the same breath as a number of wonderful players around the world, and it means a huge amount to have got this award.
“If there was one hundred that really sticks out, it would probably be in Chennai against India. With it being my 100th game, it is something that will live long in the memory.”
Root’s 218 was the highest score by someone playing in his 100th Test and capped a remarkable start to 2021.
He had begun the year with scores of 228 and 186 against Sri Lanka, a sequence of form thoroughly deserving of the tag “Bradman-esque”.
So special was Root’s performance in Chennai - not least because of the added fanfare of it being his 100th appearance – that all-rounder Ben Stokes was moved to quip: “Root makes me feel rubbish.”
It was a compliment from one champion cricketer to another, Stokes adding: “I’m not sure we’ve had an England player play spin so well.”
Root added further centuries in three successive Tests against India in the summer, scoring 109 at Trent Bridge, 180 not out at Lord’s and 121 at his home ground of Headingley.
The only frustration, perhaps, from a personal point of view, was that the wait for an elusive Test hundred in Australia went on, Root falling for 89 in the first Test in Brisbane, then 62 in Adelaide and for 50 in Melbourne.
Root’s form – he also chipped in with 14 wickets at 30 with his part-time off-spin – rather restated his case to be considered among the greatest batsmen alive.
It was not so long ago, in fact, that a dwindling output by his own towering standards had led some to question whether he still deserved to be ranked among the so-called “Fab Four” along with Steve Smith, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson.
Thanks to his magnificent efforts in 2021, however, Root has not so much drifted out of that esteemed quartet as risen to the top of it and rendered the discussion redundant.
Indeed, he now finds himself ranked second in the ICC Test rankings behind Marnus Labuschagne, with Williamson third, Smith fourth and Kohli seventh.
Not only that, but the Test average is back to a shade under 50 (49.23) and the conversion rate a little better too (23 hundreds to go with 53 fifties).
And, with him having just turned 31, Root is more or less at the peak of his powers and with power to add on the international stage.
Quite how many runs a man who already possesses 9,600 of them is going to end up with is anyone’s guess.
Root has near single-handedly carried England of late, an achievement heightened by the team’s poor form and the criticisms levelled in relation to his captaincy.
Root may not be the greatest tactician since Mike Brearley, but a captain, however good, is only as good as the players under him and Root has had precious little support from the England top-order.
Moreover, he remains a splendid ambassador for his team and his country – qualities that should not be overlooked when assessing the overall leadership package.
“It has been my best 12 months with the bat in what has been a challenging period for the England Test team,” added Root.
“From a personal point of view, I felt in good form and relaxed at the crease.
“My hope for 2022 is that I can build on my individual performances for what promises to be a crucial 12-month campaign for the England men’s Test team.”
It would be a brave man who would bet against Yorkshire’s finest achieving that aim.