If Gayle is T20 King Then Root is Triple Format Emperor
There was never any problem getting a handle on Michael Atherton while he was playing for England.
By turns solid, stolid, sedulous, steadfast and singular-minded, he was the redoubtable grit amidst a pool of fluffy nothings. He took risks like Scrooge spent money.
In that light, it’s interesting to note how Atherton has become one of the sharpest and perspicacious of the current breed of current writers.
And yet, despite all the wit and wisdom of the former England captain, I still suspect he and his Test colleagues don’t really understand T20, even after a contest which yielded more than 460 runs at the World T20 on Friday.
England, bolstered by a refulgent display of pyrotechnics of Joe Root, who may well become the best batsman in the world in all three formats, chased down an improbable target of 230 and, despite an absurd collapse at the death, were well worth their victory.
But what does it matter? As far as this tournament goes, it was a compelling tussle which ebbed and flowed and fluctuated in a giddy maelstrom of boundaries.
Atherton said in The Times this week that there was no literature or even newspaper coverage which could compare with Ernest Hemingway, Neville Cardus or Hugh McIlvanney when it came to the Twenty20 format because it was all over too quickly or rather in a timeframe as long as two football games or three rugby matches, depending on the referee.
Well, let’s see. Root today was inspirational, a youngster who seized and suffused his milieu with the sort of derring-do which is irresistible. He doesn’t waste time on bad balls, but he doesn’t squander his attention on good ones either. It’s as if he knows what’s coming next, and yet there is no reckless aggression or recourse to calculated sterility in his approach.
In Root’s landscape, the bowling seems irrelevant to the point where he orchestrates mayhem without it seeming in any way violent. Already this week, Chris Gayle has pummelled a wonderfully bellicose hundred against England, but that was a sensational act of full-blooded artillery fire after Marlon Samuels had lit the detonator.
Shahid Afridi was in his pugnacious pomp against Bangladesh and Tillekeratne Dilshan capitalised on some sub-village fielding by Afghanistan to steer their sides to triumph, but let’s see how these veterans – with a combined age of 75 – cope with better, faster attacks.
Root, on the other hand, has demonstrated repeatedly that he has the ability to seize any game – from the Test cauldron to pyjama fare or T20 chaos – and mould it in his image. Dale Steyn, Chris Morris, Imran Tahir…..their wildness and wiles didn’t matter a jot on Friday. Sometimes, Root plays what looks like a forward defensive prod with minimal back lift. A few seconds later, it has soared over the boundary rope.
This doesn’t mean he is a cricketing Michelangelo. It doesn’t even mean England will get out of their group, though one had to suspect Steyn has shot his bolt and South Africa might as well get ready to head home.
But one can start to understand why David Warner ended up in such hot water in that Birmingham nightclub. He was striving and failing to get under the skin of the greatest young player of his generation in the game.
At least, that is one thing I can agree on with Atherton!