Joe Root had the perfect introduction to captaincy with a thumping victory over South Africa at Lord’s. Now he wants a scrap.
The devil inside the new England captain sprang to the surface when he was asked at Trent Bridge how he will cope when the going inevitably gets tough.
‘There is a little bit of me looking forward to that,’ said Root with the cherubic smile that masks such a fierce competitor. ‘I’m fully aware last week was the perfect start and there will be plenty of challenges ahead. It may well be it happens here and we’ll have to see what that brings and how I cope.’
Joe Root has named an unchanged England side for the second Test against South Africa
That first examination of how Root copes could hang on how England approach Friday’s second Investec Test because they have been maddeningly inconsistent for three years with a bad performance so often following a superlative one.
They will never have a better chance to kick opponents when they are down. South Africa look fragile and must now try to fight back on one of England’s happy hunting grounds.
It was in the last Nottingham Test two years ago that Australia were bowled out for 60 and the Ashes regained, Stuart Broad producing one of the great spells of fast bowling to take eight for 15.
There was less grass on the Trent Bridge pitch on Thursday than the one on which Australia were ambushed but there should be enough assistance for seam and swing to dominate on a ground where Jimmy Anderson has 53 wickets in eight Tests.
England captain Root made the perfect start in the role against South Africa at Lord’s
‘It will be nice for them to be wrestling each other to bowl,’ said Root of his four-man seam attack in an unchanged side.
‘That might be a challenge in itself — making sure I pick the right time for each to bowl — but that’s part of the art of captaincy.
‘It’s not something I expect to get right straight away but I’ll go with whatever I think best.’
It is in his handling of Anderson and Broad that Root faces a fascinating challenge.
The early signs with two such strong characters were good at Lord’s.
‘They were great in understanding when I made certain decisions, especially Jimmy when I took him off after two overs,’ said Root.
‘They were very helpful and they know how to get the best from themselves. There will be times when I need to deal with a grumpy fast bowler but that’s part of the job and I’m quite looking forward to it.’
The England team ran through some catching drills on the outfield in Nottingham on Thursday
In the euphoria of the Lord’s win it would be easy to forget that Root’s two contentious picks in Gary Ballance and Liam Dawson had relatively mediocre games.
Root confirmed that he had a big part to play in that first Test selection and backed close friend and Yorkshire captain Ballance to soon end any doubts about his technique at the highest level.
‘I thought the way Gary played in the second innings was worth at least double on that surface,’ said Root of Ballance’s 34.
‘He looked very comfortable in the first innings too, until his dismissal, and put pressure on the bowlers. He will be desperate to make this opportunity count.’
Keaton Jennings (left) is one man who will be looking to make his opportunity count
But what about that idiosyncratic technique?
‘The most important thing for him is his weight distribution and that looks a lot better than a year ago. His game is in good order and a big score is round the corner.’
Root is adamant that big score can come for Ballance at three after confirming he wants to stay at four despite coach Trevor Bayliss’s preference for his best batsman to be a place higher.
‘Batting at four is where I get the best out of myself,’ said Root, who did just that with 190 at Lord’s. ‘And three is where England have had the best out of Gary in the past so there’s no reason why we can’t again.’
Trevor Bayliss’ men will want to back up their strong showing from the first Test at Lord’s
South Africa are enduring a miserable tour and running out of time to change it. But history tells you they will not go down without a fight, despite their miserable fourth-day capitulation to an inspired Moeen Ali at Lord’s.
At least captain Faf du Plessis is back after difficulties surrounding the birth of his first child, and he is confident his side can hit back despite the controversial absence of the suspended Kagiso Rabada.
‘There were times at Lord’s when England found themselves under pressure. The disappointing thing was how quickly they got out of trouble,’ said Du Plessis. ‘When they threw a punch back at us we just sat back and let it happen and that’s where we let the game slip.’
If England can land some more big punches at Trent Bridge then this four-match series will be within their grasp.