FEATURE: Joe Root's raring to get going as England skipper ahead of facing South Africa at Lord's

Joe Root faces the cameras after being unveiled as England captain
Joe Root faces the cameras after being unveiled as England captain

After almost five months of waiting, talking and thinking about it, the day Joe Root has been groomed for his entire adult life is finally here.

July 6. England v South Africa, at Lord’s. The England captaincy. The start of a new era.

An era which began, of course, 143 days ago when Root was officially unveiled as Alastair Cook’s successor to a media scrum in the familiar surroundings of Headingley, Yorkshire’s home ground which has changed immeasurably since he first walked through the gates as a 13-year-old boy.

As, it must be said, has Root; the small, cherubic, baby-faced prodigy who once struggled to get the ball off the square, is now a powerhouse of world cricket.

Even if serious facial hair still eludes him, that boy is now a man.

“I’m raring to go now,” 26-year-old Root told The Star.

Root and Gary Ballance are close mates, as well as Yorkshire and England teammates

Root and Gary Ballance are close mates, as well as Yorkshire and England teammates

“We have such a big six months of cricket coming up, culminating in the Ashes over the winter. It’d be wrong to put too much focus on that, of course, but it’s at the back of your mind. Always.

“But there’s a lot of very important cricket ahead of us before then, and we’ve got to take care of two very good opposition in the meantime.”

First up are South Africa in a four-match series, before three against the West Indies as a warm-up to the winter’s Ashes Down Under.

South Africa are weakened by the absences of AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn, while captain Faf du Plessis is absent after the birth of his child - meaning Dean Elgar will join Root in making his captaincy debut at the Home of Cricket.

A younger Root in his Yorkshire Academy days

A younger Root in his Yorkshire Academy days

If Elgar’s promotion was unexpected, Root’s is anything but; he earned the moniker FEC (or Future England Captain) in the youth teams at Sheffield Collegiate, helped as much by comparisons to Michael Vaughan as a classy, flawless technique.

Captaincy experience in first-class cricket has been limited since then - he was nicknamed ‘Craptain’ by teammates after Yorkshire lost - coincidentally, one hopes, at Lord’s - when Middlesex chased a mammoth 473 on his watch - but has promised to be an attacking, forward-thinking and proactive captain, mirroring his approach to batting.

His squad for the first Test has his hallmarks, too, with a recall for Gary Ballance; the Yorkshire captain who he knows better than most. Despite being born a year and 5,000 miles apart - Root in Dore, Ballance on a Zimbabwean tobacco farm - the two played for Yorkshire’s Academy together, were ‘capped’ on the same day and later shared a house near Bradford.

“I think it’s really important for captains to try and stay true to themselves,” Ballance told The Star.

“Don’t try and become someone different. Rooty’s got the biggest job in English cricket and he definitely deserves it.

“I’ve played a lot of cricket with him and we’ve spent a lot of time together off the field, too. We’re good mates.”

Ballance’s selection is borne out out of runs, rather than cronyism, but doubts remain about his technique against high-quality fast bowling and picking him over Surrey’s Mark Stoneman, for one, was a brave call.

In Root’s tenure, there will surely be many. For now, though, the talking, the thinking, the waiting is almost over and a new chapter is about to be written.