Debate over where Joe Root should bat in England’s line-up continues to rage with opinion divided on whether he would be more effective at No3 than his preferred slot at No4.
Root is England’s best player and I believe the team would benefit from him batting at No3. For the last 18 months or so, England have been susceptible to an early collapse with the bowling team gaining early impetus.
England have struggled to stabilise their innings after the loss of their first wicket and Root coming in at No3 could shift the momentum back in their favour.
He is the prize wicket for opponents but equally the batsman they fear the most and he could be England’s equivalent of Ricky Ponting, who was ultra-aggressive batting as Australia’s No3 and would strike fear into bowlers.
Root is very much suited to such a role and would put bowlers on the back foot. It would be advantageous if he did bat at No3 and the balance of the side would be improved but, crucially, he has got to want to play there.
He’s obviously comfortable at No4 – he averages 54.4 there compared to 45.3 at No3 – and perhaps batting slightly lower down the order works for him at this stage of his captaincy.
Even though England have been losing early wickets regularly of late, when he comes off the pitch after 100 or so overs in the field, batting at No4 may just give him a breather and allow him time to gather his thoughts before having to put his pads on.
If he feels that being promoted up the order is going to affect his captaincy and his batting then that has to be taken into consideration before a decision is taken prior to this winter’s Ashes.
What is clear is that England are losing too many wickets early on and if Root was to come in at No3 that would not happen as regularly. I’m in favour of the move.
England also have options. I think Tom Westley, who batted at No3 against South Africa and West Indies this summer, would be suited to coming in down the order in Australian conditions. It could just be as simple as switching those two.
Another player being touted for a place on the plane to Australia is wicketkeeper-batsman Ben Foakes – our paths briefly crossed at Surrey. He is a very good, solid player and someone who Surrey director of cricket Alec Stewart raves about.
He’s not a flashy performer like Jos Buttler – he won’t play crazy ramp shots – but he has a good technique and no obvious weaknesses. If he goes to Australia, he would be a useful back-up to Jonny Bairstow.
The question for selectors is whether they reward someone who has been playing country cricket and done well for England Lions, as Foakes has, or pick a player who hasn’t played much red-ball cricket but who they know can perform under the pressure of international cricket.
I suspect Foakes may go but if Buttler plays really well in the remainder of the one-day series against West Indies then it may provide food for thought.