"The game has seen innumerable stars and God knows Joe Root will go down as one of the finest of 'em all. But there's a problem. A problem Joe Root, amongst all of us, wants to overcome the most".
After the England Test tour of Sri Lanka in March 2020 got canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has brought the entire planet to a standstill, Sky Sports, the official broadcasters of cricket in the UK, decided to engage its fans with a virtual Test series. When statistician Benedict Bermange tweeted the scorecard of the first virtual test at the end of day 2, it showed Joe Root 69 not out with Ben Stokes as his partner on the other end. Root replied to the tweet saying. “Odds on Root getting out in the 70’s……”. This may seem funny and quirky in nature but ask anyone who follows cricket, it isn’t.
Test Matches have a history of over 142 years, with the first match played between England and Australia back in 1877. Since then, the game has seen innumerable stars and God knows Joe Root will go down as one of the finest of 'em all. At just 28, he is the second-highest run-scorer in international cricket for the country. He has already the most half-centuries and is only second to Alastair Cook in terms of centuries. Sooner than later, he’ll occupy the top position. But there's a problem. A problem Joe Root, amongst all of us, wants to overcome the most.
It's his poor conversion rate in the longest format of the game. It started with a glitch, missing a few chances to score a hundred, but from that to now, it has become more of a familiar sight.
Root's career started properly, average, if you go by cricketing terms. He started peaking at the right time, just as the genius in Kevin Petersen was slowly waning. England needed a middle-order specialist, and Joe Root proved to be just the man.
Then came the 'Fab Four' nomenclature. Joe Root was placed besides Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson, and Steve Smith, their career being on the rise. Martin Crowe wrote in 2014, "All four have similar talent, hunger, ambition, and responsibility. All four will go on to captain their countries. All four will reach peak form in a few years' time, and then the real battle will commence as to who will be the No. 1 batsman in the world."
The late New Zealand batsman and former captain's words came to be true as in less than two years, all the three except Joe Root were made captain of their national Test sides. Joe Root got it in 2017, when Alastair Cook resigned from captaincy following criticism for series loss against India in India.
This is where the problem began to settle in. Although his captaincy record is just fine, it's his personal performance that has been affected. Before being made the captain of the England Test side, Root scored at an average of 52.80 in 53 tests (11 centuries). Brilliant by any standards. After that, in the 39 matches he has played as captain, he's scoring at 42.92 (6 centuries) - a stunning difference of 10 runs. Virat, under his own captaincy, scores at more than 61 runs per innings. Smith, before the Sandpaper Gate, scored at around 70. Williamson, under the same observation, is going at nearly 55.
The conversion rate problem has stuck with Joe Root for a long time but like cancer, it has only increased in his captaincy. In the concerned period, on the 26 occasions, he went past 50 runs, only 6 times (conversion rate of ~23%) has he converted those into three figures. The other mentioned players, on the other hand, have improved considerably in their own leadership.
When you took a look at his partners in the 'Fab Four', in terms of run making, Steve Smith is leading the way with Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson following closely. In conversion rate, Virat (55.1%) is right up there just behind The Don and George Headley, with Smith (47.2%) in close proximity. Williamson (39.6%) is somewhat behind in this matter but way ahead than his English counterpart. Root's overall conversion rate of 26.1% is among the worst in modern-day cricket. Joe Root is falling behind. There is no sugar coating to this fact.
What makes a player great is his ability to win matches. For a batsman, the most one can do is to make his bat talk. You look at Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis, Rahul Dravid and you see that centuries win you matches. 50s and 60s are good, but when you are one of the prolific batsmen of an era, you don't stop on these petty scores, you make them count.
No one seems to have figured out what the problem is with Joe Root. Some cricket pundits link it with captaincy pressure, which Root has vehemently denied over the course of time. He comes onto the crease, looks in good nick, crosses 50, and all of a sudden, gone before 100. Also, there is his well-documented weakness to the incoming delivery which seems to escalate with the second new ball.
Many have even gone on to give suggestions for the next test captain. In any case, Root's clock is ticking and if he has to keep his position intact, there should be more conversions, and more centuries to show.