He may boast increasing batting prowess and rising status within the dressing room, but England vice-captain Joe Root is determined to prevent the burden of responsibility dimming his endearing joie de vivre.
Whether it be his mask-wearing mimicking of Bob Willis, a cheeky mock salute to welcome Ben Stokes’ century or schoolboy sniggering at skipper Alastair Cook’s unwitting double entendres, the impish Root is the poster boy for England’s new-found exuberance.
The 24-year-old was anointed Cook’s Test-match deputy in one of former captain Andrew Strauss’s first moves upon being named England’s director of cricket in May.
While keen to play down talk of his apparent destiny, Root is adamant that career progression should not inhibit the mischievous manner that has accompanied his rise to No1 batsman in the world.
“I hope not,” Root told City A.M. “I want to keep enjoying playing cricket regardless of what my role is in the team. I want everyone to really enjoy playing for England.”
But it is not all carefree frolics. Man of the series in this summer’s Ashes, Root has notched the highest ever number of international runs by an England batsman in a year: 2,131.
Off the field, Root demonstrated growing awareness and maturity by declining a night out in Newcastle after the one-day side wrapped up a series win over New Zealand in June.
He and England had been stung before, infamously two years earlier when the Yorkshireman was involved in a fracas with Australia opener David Warner in a Birmingham bar during the Champions Trophy.
“More than anything, knowing how important it was with it being an Ashes summer, we didn’t want to attract the wrong attention prior to it,” added Root, who documents that series in his new book ‘Bringing Home The Ashes’.
“We had to make sure we could go into the series worrying about nothing but cricket, especially knowing what it is like being a part of Ashes cricket and all the added hype and tension around it.”
Whether he becomes England captain in the future remains to be seen, but the Sheffield-born right-hander insists current Test skipper Cook – a man be believes is at the zenith of his powers after a streak of tactical struggles and a one-day demotion – is the perfect mentor.
“The reason he has been so successful is he has been through a lot of hardship and has had to learn a lot on the job and learn from some really tough times,” said Root.
“I think over this last six months he has been a lot better at taking on and letting in more from outside of the England dressing room, whether it be past captains or past players, and listening to their advice and letting them help him.”
Cook has credited head coach Trevor Bayliss, who became the first Australian to lead England when he succeeded the axed Peter Moores during the summer months, for the improvements in his captaincy.
Bayliss’s emphasis is on self-reliance and a player-led environment – also fostered by assistant Paul Farbrace when in temporary charge – and he has Root’s seal of approval.
“Trevor is great to work with. He is very different to a lot of people that you would normally associate with that job,” added Root.
“But sometimes the most important thing about international cricket is having someone who is going to keep you relaxed and keep you composed under pressure and that is one thing he is extremely good at.
“He strips the game down to its bare basics and makes sure all those essential things are done correctly. As a duo they are fantastic for that environment.”
The unrelenting nature of international cricket sees England, currently ranked No5 in the world rankings, docked in South Africa ahead of a four-Test showdown with the world’s best this winter.
England have won only one series there since the Proteas returned to Test cricket in 1992 and salvaged a 1-1 draw from their last tour of South Africa in 2009/10 following Ashes success that summer, with the scale of the task is not lost on Root.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge and we’re going to have to play extremely well as a side to go and perform well there but there is no reason why we can’t do that,” he said.
“Our goal as a team is to be top of the rankings in all three formats. That’s something we aspire to do, a long-term goal. Those sort of things don’t happen overnight and the only way we can do that is by breaking it down and winning a series at a time.
“That’s the way we’re going to have to do it, be more consistent away from home and take it step by step.”
Bringing Home The Ashes by Joe Root is available now (Hodder & Stoughton, £20).