Joe Root’s decision to play in the Twenty20 Tri-series in Australia and New Zealand next month came against the advice of England’s coach, Trevor Bayliss, who initially suggested that he should recognise the perpetual demands upon him and rest for the duration of the tournament.
Bayliss’ revelation that Root wanted to play in the tournament to re-establish himself as a T20 cricketer will quicken speculation that he could enter the IPL auction on January 27-28 and commit himself to a life of virtually non-stop cricket.
That Root wants to play IPL is certain; the only question is when. At the very least, his intention is to put a marker down by playing in the tri-tournament and stressing that he wants to be seen as a cricketer committed to all three formats.
As Bayliss recognised, “you’ve almost got to be Superman” to do that and that is before the additional responsibilities of the England captaincy are taken into account. Root looked drawn and dejected by the time England’s Ashes defeat was confirmed and, although a bout of gastro-enteritis which caused him to miss the final day of the series might have just been one of those things, it did serve as a reminder of the pressures upon him.
Bayliss’ chat with Root about his plans for the rest of England’s winter came as the Ashes series ended and Australia unveiled their giant-sized Hand of Victory – the sort of marketing gimmick that must tempt England to try to stage-manage a 2-0 win next time in search of an appropriate hand gesture in response.
“I suggested to him that he shouldn’t play, that he should have a break,” Bayliss said. “He feels that whenever he’s had a break in the last couple of years, it’s always been a T20 series, and he wants to play in 50-over World Cups and T20 World Cups, and he thinks if he keeps missing all the T20 cricket he’s just going to fall behind and not be up to speed when those come along. So you can understand where he’s coming from as well.”
Bayliss suggested that he regarded the chat as unfinished which, although he did not say as much, might indicate that Root’s cricketing commitments until the start of the England international summer at the end of May have yet to be concluded.
“The simple fact is you don’t want that to impact on his performances at Test and one-day level,” he said. “It’s just a Catch-22 situation: there are difficult decisions to make. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. One of the things I’ll be chatting with him about again is this T20 series, but after his illness I think we’ll have another discussion about that.”
It’s long been accepted that stress can lead to illness but recently evidence has also accrued that some people have a tendency to become ill after a stressful period has come to an end.
Root succinctly described his IPL dilemma in September. “It would be a great way to try and improve my white-ball game but ultimately I’m an England player and I want to be at my best when playing for England,” he said.
That he has the talent to play all three forms of the game should be taken as read – but does he have the energy and resilience? He might not be the biggest hitter in the game, but his strokeplay has become increasingly dextrous – never better showcased than in Mumbai during the WT20 in 2016 when his brilliant 83 from 44 balls anchored England’s world-record run-chase against South Africa.
Besides Root, only Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes and, increasingly, Jonny Bairstow, are multi-formated internationals, but the financial rewards on offer are not easily ignored.
“There is so much cricket these days, it’s very difficult to be playing all forms of cricket,” Bayliss said. “England, Australia and India play so much cricket. You’ve almost got to be Superman to get through it. I’m quite sure the players themselves would like it if there wasn’t quite as much cricket.
“Since May last year we’ve had 21 months of cricket in 23. For someone like Joe Root, who plays in all formats, to get through all of those without missing a game is impossible. So separation of the two teams is happening naturally a little bit, because guys do find it very difficult – not so much to swap from one team to the other, but actually to put up with it. That’s just the way the game’s going.”
Two years ago, Root shunned the IPL auction because he wanted to establish himself as a high-quality England Test batsman. In February last year, he had just succeeded Alastair Cook as England’s Test captain and also had the arrival of a new baby to contend with.
That he would receive big bids in an IPL auction is inevitable – if not as big as the 1.7m that Rising Pune Giant paid to make Ben Stokes the most expensive overseas player in IPL history a year ago.
That Root will play IPL one day soon is seen by Bayliss as inevitable. “It is just the way the world of cricket is going. If you don’t get involved in it you run the risk of dropping behind the rest of the players in the world and the rest of the teams in the world. You’ve just got to go with the flow and see where it takes you.”
The official line from Andrew Strauss, England’s director of cricket, is now firmly entrenched that the IPL is an opportunity for professional as well as financial advancement.
Strikingly, Bayliss even suggested that the pre-Test county warm-ups might have to be jettisoned for players such as Root, demanding that he switches from format to format at will. He played two matches in 2017, as did his Yorkshire team-mate Bairstow, and they managed 30 runs between them.
“If you look at the Aussies, they hardly play at all for their states but Joe does play a few for his county,” Bayliss observed. “Is that another opportunity to rest him? Rather than play in the last county match before a Test match we look at it from a longevity point of view and say don’t play these four days.
“I’ve said to the players before, I’d much rather you miss a county match than miss playing for England, but it is a Catch-22 because you want guys in form to come into a Test match but if they do that, by the end of a home series they are flagging and we’ve got to rest them from England matches.”
For county appearances to disappear entirely for the likes of Root in a desperate attempt to balance an overcrowded fixture list would be no surprise at all, but it would hardly begin to address the extent of the workload challenge faced by the world’s most sought-after, adaptable cricketers as the battle continues for their services.