Joe Root’s future as the captain of England has not yet been formally declared. But the announcement on Monday that he will lead England Lions next week against the New Zealanders is as clear an indication as any of the selectors’ thinking.
The vacancy is unlikely to arise for some while with Alastair Cook having been elevated to the Test captaincy only six months ago. Still only 28, Cook probably has at least four or five years in the job given decent results and none of those pesky interventions such as loss of form or disputes with management that tend to arise with England captains.
There is, however, always the need to plan ahead, especially in these days when Test players rarely become county captains. It has been a regular concern for the England coach, Andy Flower, and the chairman of selectors, Geoff Miller, that young international players have little chance to learn the art of captaincy. Cook, for one, is learning on the job.
Miller said: “Joe Root will lead the side in order to assist his development as a cricketer and provide him with valuable experience of captaincy against quality opposition.” Root can expect several other similar commissions in the next two years even if he cements his place as a batsman in the senior side.
It is not a definite career path. Recent Lions captains such as Robert Key, James Hildreth, Andrew Gale and James Taylor will almost certainly never captain England. But, at 22, Root is plainly in a different category.
The selectors have seen leadership potential in him which they want to start moulding now. He was initially to be given the opportunity last winter but had to renounce it when he was called up to the senior Test and one-day squads.
Root now also seems certain to hold on to his place in the England middle order. Not only is Kevin Pietersen missing the series against New Zealand but Root has hit good form early this season after a low-key finish to the winter tour.
England are taking seriously the threat of New Zealand, who arrive in the country today. The Lions side for the match at Leicester next week contains seven full internationals, six of whom have played Tests. The newcomers are Toby Roland-Jones of Middlesex and Chris Wright of Warwickshire. Taylor has been picked although he was not named in the England Performance Squad of 30 players last month, a decision which now seems perverse.
* England side to play New Zealand at Leicester, 9-12 May
J E Root (Yorkshire, capt)
J M Bairstow (Yorkshire)
R S Bopara (Essex)
M A Carberry (Hampshire)
V Chopra (Warwickshire)
S C Kerrigan (Lancashire)
G Onions (Durham)
T M Roland-Jones (Middlesex) J W A Taylor (Nottinghamshire)
C R Woakes (Warwickshire)
C J C Wright (Warwickshire)