Trevor Bayliss, England’s head coach, has backed Joe Root to bring the same positive intent to his captaincy that he has always brought to his batting, as he prepares to take charge of the Test team for the first time against South Africa at Lord’s next week.
Root inherited the Test role from Alastair Cook, who stepped down after last year’s tour of India, but has been waiting in the wings for the past seven months during a prolonged period of white-ball cricket under the leadership of Eoin Morgan.
However, he has been a pivotal figure throughout England’s rise up the one-day rankings, and speaking at the Investec Test series launch in London, Bayliss said that he would provide Root with whatever backing he needs to shape the team however he sees fit in the coming weeks.
“Certainly the way Rooty goes about his cricket, he’s nice and positive the way he bats, I suspect the way he will captain the team will be similar,” Bayliss said. “We’ve had a few short chats over the last month or so, about the way Rooty wants to attack the game. I suspect we will go a bit deeper into the South African side over the next couple of days.
“My way of operating is the captain’s the one in charge. It’s a bit old-school, but that’s what I believe,” Bayliss added. “They are the ones playing the game. They are the ones who’ve got to have a say in how the game moves forward.
“To all the captains who’ve captained England since I’ve been here, I’ll give them 100 percent backing, if they have got a good argument for what they want do, whether it’s selection, field placement, bowling changes. If they haven’t got a good argument for something, that’s where I might come up with a few ideas myself.”
While England’s one-day performances have caught the eye since Bayliss and his assistant Paul Farbrace took the helm in 2015, the Test team has fallen short of its usual standards. They lost a record eight fixtures in 2016, including two at home to Pakistan in a drawn series last summer, as well five out of seven on their most recent assignments against Bangladesh and India in the subcontinent. The first Test squad of the summer is due to be announced on Saturday morning, and the selectors know that there are plenty of places up for grabs.
“We are perhaps not as settled as we could be,” Farbrace said. “Obviously the selectors this week are going to have a tough decision in terms of looking at the balance and make-up of the side. I think we’ve still got some way to go in terms of being balanced, being organised as a team and probably knowing what our best team is. In one-day cricket, we’re a bit more settled. In Test cricket, we’ve still got a way to go.”
One player who could scarcely seem more settled, however, is Root’s predecessor. Cook had looked careworn at the end of the India tour, after five years and a record 59 Tests in charge, but he has returned to his Essex roots with alacrity this summer, racking up six hundreds in all formats, including 193 in the ongoing contest against the champions, Middlesex, to cement his side’s place at the top of the County Championship standings. It appears that he is in the ideal form and frame of mind to provide Root with a valuable source of wisdom from the corner of the dressing-room.
“It’s great that, after giving away the captaincy, he’s still got that hunger to score runs,” Bayliss said. “As an ex-England captain, it will be a bit of a juggling act, but he and Rooty get on very well. Cooky is very well respected in the team and if he thinks something needs to be said, I’m sure he will say it.”
The identity of Cook’s opening partner is less assured, however. Prior to suffering a hand injury in India last year, Haseeb Hameed looked to have made the role his own following an eye-catching debut, but he has struggled for runs for Lancashire this season, and is likely to have to wait his turn for a recall. Keaton Jennings, captaining the Lions against South Africa in Worcester, is a ready-made stand-in, although the claims of Surrey’s Mark Stoneman, thriving at The Oval since his move from Durham last year, cannot be ignored either.
“It’s a surprise to all of us that he’s had the tough time he’s had,” Farbrace said of Hameed’s struggles this season. “The thing that stood out in India was not only the way he practised and played the game, but the nous, the confidence, without being cocky or arrogant, to look completely at home. That was the thing that excited all of us.
“He’s probably trying to work his game out, but he’s definitely got an unbelievable future ahead of him in international cricket,” Farbrace added. “Everything about him suggests he will be a major success, it reminds me of Root, he will go through [bad] periods, and he will be a better player for it.”
Gary Ballance, another player in stellar form this season, is proof of that point. He was cast aside last winter, after mustering 24 runs in four innings against Bangladesh’s spinners, but has been in irresistible form in his maiden season as Yorkshire captain. Against Hampshire in April he scored 108 and 203 not out to lay out his stall for the campaign, and Bayliss expects him to feature heavily in the selectors’ thinking.
“It’s great to see him scoring runs,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll be spoken about in tomorrow’s selection meeting, quite heavily. One thing Gary’s always had in his favour is he’s mentally tough, which is why he’s been able to come back after being dropped a couple of times and score a lot of runs for Yorkshire. There’s no reason why someone like that can’t come back and make a success of international cricket. But somewhere along the line, the selection panel will have to make a decision on whether it’s time to look at someone new.
“In the two years I’ve been here it will be the toughest selection meeting that I’ve had,” Bayliss added. “It’s a good problem to have when you’re struggling to know which guys to put in. I liked the look of [Dawid] Malan in the one-day series. Stoneman scored a lot of runs with Surrey this season and a lot of tough runs the last couple of seasons at Durham. [Sam] Robson has been scoring some runs. They’re up for discussion and we’ll come up with an answer tomorrow. We’ll work our way down the order.”
Ballance’s Yorkshire team-mate, Jonny Bairstow, will be among the first names on the team-sheet for Lord’s – in stark contrast to his frustrating time as a fringe member of the white-ball set-up – following a record-breaking run of form in Test cricket in 2016, in which he set new records for runs and catches by a wicketkeeper in a calendar year.
“His batting has been unbelievable,” Bayliss said. “To score the runs that he did, most of the season batting at seven, was outstanding, and he’s certainly becoming one of the better players in the team.
“He has that confidence now that he’s in the team and feels a part of it, because one of the jumps when you go up a level [in professional cricket] is feeling comfortable and feeling a part of that new environment,” Bayliss added. “He’s gone from being a Yorkshire player who occasionally plays for England to becoming an England player who occasionally plays for Yorkshire.”
Bayliss indicated that Bairstow was likely to retain the gloves for the first Test, despite being worthy of selection for his batting alone. With Jos Buttler and Sam Billings already in the England set-up, and Surrey’s Ben Foakes making a very strong case for recognition, alternatives are not thin on the ground, especially if his standards dip at any stage behind the stumps.
“Not just at the moment,” Bayliss said. “I think Jonny deserves the chance to start this year as the keeper.”
On the bowling front, England will face a few anxious moments over the weekend, seeing how Stuart Broad’s heel holds up if, as expected, he is passed fit to play in the Royal London Cup final against Surrey on Saturday. With Chris Woakes (side) and Jake Ball (knee) both ruled out, and James Anderson on the mend after a groin problem earlier in the season, there is a definite fragility to England’s fast-bowling stocks.
“We’ll know tonight before our selection meeting in the morning,” Bayliss said of Broad’s fitness. “He’s been training the last couple of days when we’ve been putting him through more of a test and, if he comes through that, he’ll play in the one-day final as a test for the Test match.
“You have to accept seam bowlers are going to get injured, but I think the good thing is there are enough quality bowlers in the England set-up,” he added. “You always want to have more than you need, you always want to have quality, but I think the last time that Anderson, Broad, Wood and Stokes were together was the Dubai Test against Pakistan [in 2015].”
Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace were speaking at the launch of the Investec Test summer