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India v England 2024

Mark Butcher suggests Joe Root’s workload with the ball is affecting his batting

Joe Root reacts in frustration during England's Test series in India, with a head shot of Mark Butcher inset
by Wisden Staff 3 minute read

Mark Butcher has suggested Joe Root’s increased workload with the ball could be hampering his output with the bat, in the context of England’s No.4 struggling to maintain his usual consistency on their ongoing tour of India.

Root is established as one of England’s greatest ever Test batters, with more than 11,000 runs at an average a shade under 50. However, he has struggled in India this winter, with a high score of 29 and an average of 12.83 from three Tests thus far.

While Root’s average under the leadership of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum is slightly better than his career figure, much of the criticism has rested on whether he suits their style of play. This debate was fuelled by his first-innings dismissal at Rajkot, caught at slip attempting to reverse-ramp Jasprit Bumrah. Root’s recent record in India is also poor. Since making a memorable double century at Chennai to kick of England’s 2021 tour, he has a high score of 40 in 13 innings.

However, Butcher put forward a different theory, that it is Root’s added burden as an off-spinner that is affecting his batting. With Stokes unable to bowl, Root has effectively been England’s all-rounder in the top six this series, sending down 107 overs in the series thus far, exceeding by a distance his previous biggest workload, of 63 overs in England’s 3-0 victory over Pakistan last winter. Root’s only score above 20 this series came in England’s first innings, which is also the only time he has batted before bowling in that time.

“If you’re asking your best batter to be a genuine all-rounder and bowl as many overs as your frontline spinners, then don’t be overly surprised if you’re not getting the output from him with the bat that you would like,” Butcher said. “I’ve thought that that thinking, going back in time to when people were talking about Joe Root being the lone spinner for England in more seam-friendly conditions and said that that was nonsense, and I still think that having him having to do so much work as a frontline spin bowler is not likely to yield the sort of results that you’d expect from him with the bat.”

Butcher also raised the issue of England’s inexperienced slow bowling attack as a key difference between them and India. With Leach injured, Rehan Ahmed, who has played three Tests, is their most experienced frontline spinner. India, on the other hand, have R Ashwin, who crossed 500 wickets at Rajkot, and Ravindra Jadeja, one of just 12 all-rounders in history to complete the double of 3,000 runs and 250 wickets, to call upon.

“I’m not sure what England can do about that with Leach’s injury, but it exposes a little bit the folly of going out there with such a green spin attack anyway to India,” said Butcher. “Rehan Ahmed and [Tom] Hartley have performed really really well, but, given the tosses coming down when you’re bowling first and third rather than second fourth, you need a bit more than guys who are just either making their way in the game or guys who are, as Joe Root is, part-time spin bowlers to hold the fort for you. It’s such a fundamental reason why [India] were favourites before it started.”

After a record defeat at Rajkot, England are 2-1 down with two games to play. The series resumes at Ranchi on Friday, February 23.

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