He may have surrendered his position as the world’s No.1 Test ranked batsman - but Sheffield’s Joe Root cannot wait to prove himself against the highest-ranked team in the world.
England’s eagerly-awaited Test series against South Africa gets underway on Boxing Day - just days after Kane Williamson leapfrogged his former Yorkshire teammate Root to the summit of the Reliance ICC Player Rankings.
Root remains second but is keen to make one thing clear: England come first.
“I’d much rather win the series than have personal success,” Root, who turns 25 on December 30, told The Star.
“But at the same time, if I’m performing with the bat it means we’re more likely to be successful. So it does go hand-in-hand, really.
“It’s up to me to make sure I continue to put the work in in the build up to the first Test, make sure we do our research and make sure we’re absolutely ready as a side.”
Root, who set a new England record for the most runs scored in a calendar year, signalled his intention to further extend his haul with a century in a warm-up game against South Africa A on Monday.
“You want to test yourself against the best,” the former Sheffield Collegiate star added.
“As a player, you’re never satisfied unless you’re scoring runs against the best in the world. And this is a great opportunity to do just that.
“Look at the two bowling attacks of the two sides... it’s going to be some serious viewing. I think they will produce some slightly seam friendly wickets after what they experienced in India [a 3-0 series defeat after being dominated by spin].
It’ll be tough in South Africa. But we played in very similar conditions over the summer, when we won the Ashes in England, and that gives us a lot of confidence. So why can’t we go out there and repeat it? Hopefully, we can go out and produce something really special out thereJoe Root
“It’ll be an interesting series, and I can see it being a close one. They have some fantastic players and are the world’s number one side, so we’ll have to play very well to beat them. That goes without saying.
“But we played in very similar conditions over the summer, when we won the Ashes in England, and that gives us a lot of confidence. So why can’t we go out there and repeat it?
“Hopefully, we can go out and produce something really special out there.”
Root is also looking forward to continuing his duties as England’s vice-captain, a role he has enjoyed since May this year.
“I’m loving it, to be honest. The extra responsibility is great,” he said.
“It means I have to think about the game a little more, and try and stay one step ahead in case Cooky needs my help or advice, or if any of the other guys want to come and chat to me.
“It also means I have to perform with the bat, too; but it’s been great, and I want to keep improving in the role and make it as easy as possible for Cooky if he needs me.”
Root, nicknamed ‘Future England Captain’ from a young age and now widely established as one of England’s senior players, aged just 24, is widely expected to take over from Cook in the future. But how is his leadership style evolving?
“It’s coming along a little bit,” he smiles. “Apart from the odd thing, there’s not been masses I’ve had to do tactically. I’d like to think that if anyone needed to chat to me about batting, or just the game in general, I could offer some help.
“That kind of thing just comes with experience, really. The more I do it, the better I’ll be come.”
“I have played a lot of cricket, so my cricket age is a lot higher than my actual age,” Root, who made his Collegiate first-team debut as a teenager, added.
“All I can do is go with it, enjoy the ride and give back to the other guys as much as possible.”
Root has recently released a book documenting his stunning year, which saw him win the Ashes again and led to him winning the Compton-Miller medal for man of the series. The book, ‘Bringing Home the Ashes’, also details England’s disastrous World Cup campaign; the highs and lows of English cricket.
“It’s been really surreal, to be honest,” Root said.
“Coming out of the World Cup, it looked like being a really tough year. So all credit must go to the squad. The hardships made it all the more special when we did win the Ashes, too... to see what everyone had been through, and for us to come out the other side with the urn.
“Going through such hard times makes us more of a tight-knit group, and means we can enjoy it more when we are successful. This is still quite a young England team, so there are a lot of lessons for everyone to learn quite early in their careers. But they stood up and performed, which was so pleasing; it wasn’t just one or two players carrying the team. We had numerous individual performances, which is exactly what you want; a collective team pulling together to do something special.
“Now, the challenge is to go to South Africa and do something similar.”